LOUISVILLE, KY. - Akshay Bhatia made a grand entrance on the junior golf scene last year, when he rewrote a large piece of the Boys Junior PGA Championship record book, highlighted by a blazing 61 during the second round. His winning total of 22-under par 266 broke Pat Perez’s 24-year old record by five strokes.
Next week, Bhatia is looking to become the first male ever to win back-to-back Championships in an event that dates to 1976. He leads a field of 144 top boys juniors—including 74 players committed to play collegiate golf—who will compete at Valhalla Golf Club for the 43rd Boys Junior PGA Championship, July 31-Aug. 3.
One of golf’s major championships for juniors, the Boys Junior PGA Championship is where the best in the world get their start including: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, 2017 PGA Champion and Louisville native Justin Thomas, 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Jim Furyk, Stewart Cink, Trevor Immelman, Justin Leonard, David Toms and Scott Verplank.
“It’s surreal to play really good golf and be in the record books at such a prestigious event,” said Bhatia, now 16, of Wake Forest, North Carolina. “It meant so much, because it kicked off my junior career.”
At the end of the event, five boys will join: 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur Champion Michael Thorbjornsen; 2018 Girls Junior PGA Champion Yeliani Noh; 2017 Girls PGA Champion Rose Zhang; 2016 Girls Junior PGA Champion Lucy Li; Rachel Heck; Erica Shepherd; and Alexa Pano on the 12-player, co-ed 2018 United States Junior Ryder Cup Team in Paris in September.
Designed by Jack Nicklaus, Valhalla is ranked as one of the Top 100 courses in America. It has hosted some iconic events in PGA of America history, led by the famous Tiger Woods-Bob May duel in 2000—which many consider to be the greatest PGA Championship ever—and the United States’ upset win over Europe in the 2008 Ryder Cup.
“We’re delighted to host the 2018 Boys Junior PGA Championship, and welcome some of the best junior golfers in the world to Valhalla Golf Club and the city of Louisville for an exciting week of golf,” said Valhalla Golf Club General Manager Keith Reese, PGA.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Akshay Bhatia, 16, Wake Forest, N.C. – The Defending Champion virtually rewrote the record book en route to winning the 2017 Boys Junior PGA Championship. Bhatia has also won the prestigious 2018 Junior Invitational at Sage Valley and smashed event records at the 2018 AJGA Polo Golf Junior Classic. Bhatia was a member of the 2017 U.S. Junior Presidents Cup Team and sits atop the 2018 Boys U.S. Junior Ryder Cup Team standings. He is ranked No. 1 for the Class of 2020 by Golfweek (and No. 3 overall among all ages). Bhatia is home schooled.
Michael Thorbjornsen, 16, Wellesley, Massachusetts - Thorbjornsen captured the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur at Baltusrol Golf Club over Akshay Bhatia this past weekend, clinching an automatic spot on the U.S. Junior Ryder Cup Team. With the win, he also earned exemptions into the 2018 U.S. Amateur and 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. A contestant in the 2018 Wyndham Cup, he also finished T-5 in the 2017 Rolex Tournament of Champions. Thorbjornsen also won his age group (14-15) at the 2016 Drive, Chip & Putt Championship at Augusta National Golf Club.
Ricky Castillo, 17, Yorba Linda, California – The No. 1 ranked boy overall, Castillo is the 2018 AJGA Heather Farr Champion. In 2017, he advanced to the round of 32 in the U.S. Amateur; and the round of 16 in the U.S. Junior Amateur. Castillo currently sits in second place in the 2018 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup standings. He is a University of Florida commit.
Canon Claycomb, 16, Bowling Green, Kentucky – A Kentucky native, Claycomb is the 2017 PING Invitational champion and a member of the 2017 Junior Presidents Cup Team. He competed in the 2018 Australian Amateur and is currently in third place in the 2018 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup standings. Claycomb is committed to the University of Alabama for the Class of 2020. He is the No. 3 ranked golfer in his class (and No. 9 overall).
5 Kentucky natives in the field – Bowling Green’s Canon Claycomb, 16, an Alabama commit; Owensboro's Daniel Love, 16; and Louisville’s Campbell Kremer, 17, (great-grandson of Valhalla Golf Club Founder Dwight Gahm), Kentucky commit Jay Kirchdorfer, 18; and LSU commit Drew Doyle, 16, (grandson of Kentucky golf legend Moe Demling).
Cole Ponich, 18, Farmington, Utah – A 2017 Rolex Junior All-American 2nd Team Member, Ponich has won both the 2018 Utah State Junior Amateur Match Play and the 2017 Bobby Chapman Invitational. He enters the 2018 Boys Junior PGA Championship in 4th place in the 2018 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup standings.
William Moll, 17, Houston – Moll is the 2017 Jones Cup Junior Invitational champion. He finished in second place in the 2017 UIL 6A Texas High School State Championship. He also had a 5th place finish at the 2018 Texas Amateur. Moll currently sits in 5th place in the 2018 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup standings.
Grayson Wotnosky, 17, Wake Forest, N.C. – Living in the same hometown of Wake Forest, N.C., Wotnosky and Akshay Bhatia are close friends. Wotnosky has captured the 2018 Junior Heritage at Sea Pines and the 2017 Donald Ross Championship. He recorded a 5th place finish at the Dustin Johnson World Junior. Wotnosky is currently in 6th place in the Boys 2018 U.S. Junior Ryder Cup standings.
Jake Beber-Frankel, 16, Miami – The son of Academy Award and Emmy Award-winning Director David Frankel (directing credits include Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me, Band of Brothers and Entourage), Beber-Frankel, 16, is one of the most colorful junior players, with his impressive long, flowing hair. His twin sister, Phoebe, is also a top junior player and often caddies for him. His grandfather, Max won a Pulitzer Prize for his New York Times coverage of President Nixon’s trip to China in 1973. Jake Beber-Frankel is a Stanford commit for the Class of 2020.