By Ryan Herrington
Akshay Bhatia’s victory at the 42nd Boys Junior PGA Championship was all but a foregone conclusion after the 15-year-old from Wake Forest, N.C., posted a second-round 61 at the Country Club of St. Albans on Tuesday. The only question then was what would his 72-hole score be, how much would he win by and how badly would be break the tournament record.
Come Thursday night the answers were 22-under 266, three strokes over Reid Davenport, and five strokes over Pat Perez’ previous mark, set in 1993.
The lefty fittingly finished by making a six-foot birdie on his final hole for a closing 67. It was his 24th birdie of the tournament, to go along with two eagles and just six bogeys.
“When I started this tournament, I never dreamed I would win by three strokes or beat the record by five strokes,” Bhatia said. “It’s such a good feeling coming off on top, after shooting 61. It’s awesome. I was focused on a number I wanted to get to, which was 22 under.”
Two days later, all anybody really still wanted to talk about was Bhatia’s 61, a score that broke the Lewis and Clark course record by two strokes. Starting on the 10th hole, Bhatia began the round by making eight birdies on the first nine holes for an opening-nine 28. A bogey on his 10th was followed by three birdies on the next four holes.
“61?” asked former St. Louis Cardinal shortstop Ozzie Smith, who participated in the trophy presentation on Thursday at the Missouri club. “61! Really? Wow!”
Despite the scores, Bhatia needed a final-round kick to fend off Davenport, a 17-year-old from Austin, Texas, set to attend Vanderbilt this fall. Rounds of 66-69-68 kept him in range, and after starting Thursday wiht five birdies on his first six holes, Davenport actually managed a share of the lead on the back nine before making a bogey on the 15th hole that let Bhatia take back control.
“If you would’ve told me I’d be 19 under and wouldn’t win, I would’ve called you crazy,” Davenport said of a score that would have won the event in any other year.”
Past winners of the event include Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, David Toms, Justin Leonard, Stewart Cink and Trevor Immelman.