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Akshay Bhatia puts his stamp on Junior PGA Championship with another record-setting effort

By Steve Overbey
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ST. ALBANS -- At age 9, Akshay Bhatia was eager to get his golfing career started.

Maybe too eager, according to his father Sonny.

Just a child, Akshay begged and pleaded to get out onto the links. But dad would have none of it.

Instead, he made his son follow older sister Rhea around the courses for a couple years so he could observe the ins and outs of the sport.

"I wanted to make sure before he started that he knew about the game and how to respect it and its rules," Sonny recalled.

Akshay learned quickly.

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The gangly Wake Forest, N.C. resident completed a week-long record-setting performance on Thursday by rolling to the title in the 42nd Boys Junior PGA Championship at The Country Club of St. Albans.

Bhatia set a tournament mark with an eye-popping 22-under-par 266 during the four-day, 72-hole event in Franklin County.

The 15-year-old crushed one PGA Junior boys record after another during a magical week.

"It's such a good feeling," Bhatia said. "This was so much fun."

Bhatia's head-shaking performance began on Tuesday when he set a one-round record with an 11-under par 61 in the second round. The sizzling score was the best ever recorded at St. Albans, which opened for play in 1992.

He followed that up with a 3-under 69 during the third round to claim the best three-day score (199) in the history of the tournament.

Bhatia's four-day total of 266 was five strokes better than any other final score in the long history of the event. Pat Perez fired a 271 in 1993.

Those dominating numbers brought fans to their feet all week long. Bhatia also had opponents shaking their heads.

Reid Davenport, an 18-year-old from Austin, Texas, finished second -- three strokes back at 269.

"If you'd have told me I'd be 19-under and wouldn't win, I'd have called you crazy," Davenport said.

The long-hitting Bhatia did the majority of his damage on the lengthy par-5 holes where he finished 16-under for the tournament.

Bhatia carried a two-stroke lead into Thursday's final round. Rather than worry about the opposition, he set a goal in his head -- to reach 22-under for the tournament.

He reached that mark with an 11-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that brought the fans, including St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame shortstop and longtime St. Albans member Ozzie Smith, to their feet.

Bhatia put his foot on the gas Tuesday and never let up. He essentially nailed down the crown with an eagle on the second hole Thursday. Using a hybrid, he drilled a shot from 260 yards out to within two feet of the cup.

Davenport birdied five of his first six holes to put some pressure on.

But Bhatia would not be denied. He completed the tournament with 24 birdies.

"Once I got the lead, I decided to be aggressive go for the pins," Bhatia said. "My mindset was not to worry about what everyone else was doing."

Bhatia's first serious round of golf came at age 11. He progressed steadily until this summer when his game took off.

His second-day 61 brought in college coaches from around the country to follow him the final two rounds.

"He knows he still has a lot of work to do," Sonny said. "But, he realizes what he wants from the sport and he's determined to get it."

This article is written by Steve Overbey from St. Louis Post-Dispatch and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.