ST. ALBANS, Mo. – Some records are made to be broken. Others are made to be shattered. Akshay Bhatia, 15, of Wake Forest, North Carolina, rewrote a large part of the history book for the 42nd Boys Junior PGA Championship this week, and he did it in style.
With Baseball Hall of Fame Member Ozzie Smith among the gallery looking on at The Country Club of St. Albans, Bhatia made a six-foot birdie on Hole No. 18 to reach 22-under-par 266 (69-61-69-67 266) for the Championship, eclipsing Pat Perez’s record set in 1993, by a mindboggling five strokes.
The left-handed Bhatia had already set Championship marks for the lowest 18-hole round ever, with a 61 during Tuesday’s 2nd Round. He also became the first player to ever break 200 after 54 holes, with a 199 total on Wednesday. His round of 61 was also a record for the Lewis and Clark Course by two strokes, and featured eight birdies on his first nine holes.
“61?” asked Smith, still in disbelief. “61! Really? Wow!”
Among the names that have played in this tournament, which was founded in 1976, are Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, David Toms, Justin Leonard, Stewart Cink, Trevor Immelman and a virtual Who’s Who of other PGA Tour stars.
“When I started this tournament, I never dreamed I would win by three strokes or beat the record by five strokes,” said Bhatia. “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.”
MORE: Full scores | Jr. PGA hub
It’s a magical standard that will likely challenge the best junior golfers in the world for years.
A five-foot eagle putt on Hole No. 2 kick-started Bhatia’s final-round, 5-under par 67. He would also record four birdies and just one bogey.
Runner-up Reid Davenport, 17, of Austin, Texas, a Vanderbilt University commit, temporarily tracked down Bhatia on the back nine at 20-under-par, after a birdie on No. 14. His round of 66 (66-69-68-66 269) featured seven birdies, including five on the first six holes. However, a bogey on Hole No. 15 would open the door for Bhatia’s run. Davenport would finish at 19-under par for the Championship.
“If you would’ve told me I’d be 19-under and wouldn’t win, I would’ve called you crazy,” said Davenport.
Bhatia had a finishing kick, with birdies on Hole Nos. 14 and 18 to win by three strokes. He earned his name on the Jack Nicklaus Trophy and a commemorative baseball bat from Smith.
“I had a two-shot lead on No. 18 but that last birdie was sweet,” said Bhatia.
University of Georgia commit Trent Phillips, (67-70-66-68 271), of Inman, South Carolina, finished third at 17-under par, following a final-round, 4-under par 68, five shots behind Bhatia. Kazakhstan native Daulet Tuleubayev (67-68-66-72 273), now of Cupertino, California was fourth, seven shots back, after shooting an even-par 72.
Michael Barnard, of Gallatin, Tennessee, finished 10 shots away from Bhatia in fifth place, after a 3-under par 69 (70-70-67-69 276) in the final round.
Dawson Ovard, 15, of Frisco, Texas, who earned a record of his own with the lowest first-round in the Championship’s history, after a 64 on Monday, finished T-14 with six other players at 283.
Last year’s runner-up Patrick Welch, 17, of Providence Rhode Island, finished T-22 at 284.
One of golf’s major championships for juniors, the Boys Junior PGA Championship is where the best in the world get their start. Begun in 1976, at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, the Championship has been a popular stop on the national junior circuit for many of today’s PGA touring professionals.
The Boys Junior PGA Championship doubled the size of the field this year and began its Championship at The Country Club of St. Albans 10 days after the conclusion of the 42nd Girls Junior PGA Championship—which was won by Rose Zhang, 14, of Irvine, California in record-tying fashion as well, with a 72-hole total of 268.