Golf-From Drive, Chip & Putt to the Masters, Bhatia is living the dream

By Thomson Reuters Apr 8, 2024 | 5:40 PM

By Steve Keating

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) – Every kid in Augusta National’s Drive, Chip & Putt competition dreams of one day returning to play the Masters and Akshay Bhatia will be the first to make that fantasy a reality on Thursday in a story that is developing into a Hollywood script.

If winning the Texas Open in a playoff over Denny McCarthy on Sunday to claim the last spot in the Masters field was not enough of a fairytale, Bhatia made it all the more dramatic when he dislocated his shoulder doing a massive fist pump after draining a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th to force extra holes.

Such a story cried out for a happy ending and the 22-year-old son of Indian immigrant’s popped his shoulder back in place, allowing him to finish with another birdie on the first playoff hole to clinch his second PGA Tour win and a Masters invite.

The Masters, USGA and PGA of America first staged the Drive, Chip & Putt in 2013 for junior golfers aged 7-15 to help grow the sport across the United States with the finals held each year at Augusta National.

Bhatia, who is set to become the first to play in the Drive, Chip & Putt finals and the Masters, said that growing up he would imagine holing the winning putt for a Green Jacket and now he will get his chance to make that childhood dream come true.

“Growing up as a kid I think everyone kind of says that (I want to make a winning putt at the Masters) to themselves,” Bhatia told reporters during a hastily called press conference on Monday. “Just to have that opportunity that first time at the Drive, Chip & Putt is pretty surreal as a kid.

“You just don’t realise how lucky we are to have that opportunity. And for everyone to be so gracious to let some kids hit some golf balls on the range, hit some putts on the 18th green, it was unreal.”

Things have got real very quickly for Bhatia, who has found himself in a logistical whirlwind making his way from Texas to Augusta overnight and finding a place for him and his team to set up camp and prepare for the week ahead.

Most importantly Bhatia will need immediate work on a rickety shoulder which has been a chronic problem.

“Still a lot of adrenaline,” Bhatia said smiling. “I haven’t been here in a couple of years and I truly haven’t seen it as a tournament.

“The shoulder, it’s going to be a work in progress, for sure. I’ve had it happen two, three times.

“I had a full dislocation playing pickleball a couple of years ago so it’s nothing new to me.

“It’s a weird, weird experience because I had so much adrenaline so I had no pain kind of in that playoff.

“It’s definitely something we’re going to have to work towards, and I have a lot of trust in my team that we can tee it up on Thursday.”

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Augusta; Editing by Ken Ferris)