If the name Akshay Bhatia is one you’re not familiar with yet, you very likely will be in the next few years. The 16-year-old from Wake Forest, North Carolina is one of the hottest amateurs in the golf world.
Bhatia, who is ranked No. 35 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, recently went back-to-back at the Junior PGA, won the Sage Valley Invitational and AJGA Polo and finished runner-up at the U.S. Junior Amateur. This week, competing at the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, Bhatia shot rounds of 2-under par 70 at Pebble Beach and even-par 72 at Spyglass Hill to tie for 10th in the stroke play qualification.
Playing his first round match against Bradford Tilley, Bhatia was poised to go 1-up through 14 holes, but his birdie was offset by a penalty incurred by his caddie, Chris Darnell. Both Bhatia and Darnell stopped on their way to the 14th green to use a nearby restroom. Bhatia emerged first and walked up to the green, but Darnell hitched a ride on a cart with a USGA-clad volunteer.
More USGA rules silliness — young baller Akshay Bhatia loses a hole, match when his caddie rides in unauthorized cart: https://t.co/1E9cTScGBo
— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) August 16, 2018
“The gentleman was wearing a USGA pullover,” Darnell told GolfChannel.com’s Ryan Lavner. “I asked if I could get a ride to the green to keep up pace, and he said yes. So I hopped on the back, got up to the green, hopped off and thought nothing of it.”
Unfortunately for Bhatia and Darnell, the rules of competition prohibit players and caddies from riding on any form of transportation during a stipulated round unless authorized. Darnell, believing that he was being authorized by hopping on with someone in a USGA pullover, was mistaken and instead of Bhatia earning a 1-up lead, a rules official who saw the incident levied an adjustment penalty, which kept the match all square with the Mid-Amateur from Connecticut.
Darnell said he took the ride because of what he says he had seen earlier in the match.
“I had already seen the other caddie in our group do it on the ninth hole,” Darnell said. “Same thing – USGA pullover, drove him from the bathroom up to the fairway – so I assumed it was fine. I didn’t point it out at the time because everything seemed kosher. He had the USGA stuff on, and I didn’t think anything of it.”
Bhatia would go on to win the 15th hole, halve the 16th hole, lose the 17th and halve the 18th, which should have been enough to earn him a 1-up victory. Instead, the match went to a 19th hole, where Tilley’s birdie bested Bhatia’s par.
“What can you do? I’ll have plenty of opportunities to play in this tournament, so I’m not too upset about it,” Bhatia said. “It’s just frustrating because I deserved to win that match. That wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but I can’t do anything about it.”