PALM HARBOR, FLORIDA | It’s hard to imagine seeing a player more nervous on the first tee than Akshay Bhatia prior to his PGA Tour debut.
The slender 17-year-old high school junior, accompanied by a posse larger than any other pro’s this week, went through a line of hugs with family and friends before arriving to greet his playing partners. Then he paced back and forth from the starter’s tent to his bag, grabbing a banana, a bottle of water, a scorecard, anything to keep moving. By the time it was his turn to play, Bhatia struggled to get his tee in the ground and then stood behind his ball, taking an exaggerated deep breath the gallery could hear clearly.
All players of Bhatia’s talent face this christening. Nearly all of them miss the cut. The world’s top-ranked junior and No. 9 amateur appears headed to that fate after opening with a 3-over 74 in the Valspar Championship, a tournament he is playing on a sponsor exemption.
It’s common for highly regarded amateurs to gain exemptions into tour events. But what Bhatia has plan...
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