Wake Forest's golf prodigy, Bhatia, will miss college and head straight for a professional career next year


In a few weeks, Akshay Bhatia will head west to try to qualify for the PGA Tour tournaments in San Diego and Phoenix on Monday.

At this time next year, if everything goes as planned, it will be his full time job.

The prodigy of Wake Forest Golf, who turns 17 this month, has confirmed he has decided not to go to college and become a pro next year after a summer on the amateur circuit. College golf coaches have long assumed that would be the case, but Bhatia said Friday that there was no turning back.

"We thought about it for a while," said Bhatia. "I probably started thinking about becoming a pro and not going to college when I was in eighth grade. At that point, you never know what's going to happen, but I just made progress and I progressed until I dominated last year.

"In college, I would play against those same kids. I've really really started to think about it: can I do this better, playing against those same people, or go ahead and play against the big leagues? "

Bhatia, who is studying at home, said he had nothing against university golf – his older sister Rhea was playing golf for Queens University in Charlotte – but he felt ready to take another step in his career. career.

"Really, it's just a progression," said Bhatia. "It's a bit like checking everything as you go. I am checking marked junior golf last summer. I do not pretend to be pretentious, but I dominated junior golf. Now we are getting closer to the amateur level and we are facing these great college kids. "

Bhatia, who finished last season as the best junior player in the world, had a busy summer. He played for the USA victorious at the Junior Ryder Cup in France and became the first player to win two consecutive PGA championships – win at the back of the 18th green – suffered a controversial defeat in the eighth finals of the American Amateur at Pebble Beach after his junior had accepted the cart ride of a tournament volunteer, won two more junior national tournaments and lost in the 36th and last hole of the championship game of the American junior amateur.

Along the way, he spent time with Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler and had lunch with Jack Nicklaus. Two times. He also filmed an episode of a movie A show on YouTube called "No Days Off" on early athletes, which is scheduled to release Tuesday.

With his decision to pursue a professional career – there is no "one-done-done" rule on the PGA Tour, which is an operation based entirely on merit – Bhatia follows in the footsteps of Ty Tryon's Triangle , the teenager from Raleigh who was one of 18 years ago, the first teenagers to jump out of college and head straight for the professional circuit.

Tryon became the youngest player of the time to make a PGA Tour Cup and win his circuit board but was only ranked once in the top 10 and experienced a professional career of 10 years before giving up the game for five years. He and Bhatia both tried to qualify for the opening of Rex Hospital last spring, finishing in the round of 16. Tryon moved on, not Bhatia. Others, like Kevin Na, have followed a similar path, but most American golfers play at least a year or two in college.

Bhatia, who trains regularly with older TPC Pros at Wakefield Plantation, said he hoped to be ready to face them full time next winter after a final year of amateur competition. To make the American team for the Walker Cup is its top priority. He will participate in major amateur events – including the US Amateur at Pinehurst in August – while attempting to qualify or obtain sponsorship exemptions for professional tournaments along the way. to get his circuit board in a qualifying school next fall and start go after Webb Simpson and Chesson Hadley.

And if he wins at Pinehurst No. 2 and wins an invitation to the Masters in April, will he still be a professional next winter?

"Oh no," said Bhatia. "Yes, I will wait. I have already taken it into account if this happens. "