Thursday, May 18, 2017

Akshay Bhatia, 15, advances from U.S. Open local golf qualifier

Davis Womble played four years of college golf at Wake Forest, then made an interesting decision after graduation: He took a regular Monday-to-Friday job rather than try to play pro golf.

Akshay Bhatia, 15, is from Wake Forest – the town, not the college – and hopes to have a long professional career ahead of him. He also has some lofty golf dreams, saying he’d like to be the first to shoot a 59 in the Masters at Augusta National.

The two amateurs had a common goal Wednesday of advancing through the U.S. Open local qualifier at N.C. State’s Lonnie Poole Golf Course. Both did, Womble carding a 4-under 68 that was the low score of the day and Bhatia finishing third with a 2-under 70.

J.T. Griffin of Wilson, a pro golfer who played at Georgia Tech, had a 69, and Kevin O’Connell of Cary and Tim Bunten of Concord survived a four-man playoff for the final two qualifying spots after shooting 71s on a sunny, muggy day. Bo Andrews of Raleigh was the first alternate.

The qualifiers advance to U.S. Open sectionals, which will set the final field for the 2017 Open at Erin Hills Golf Course in Erin, Wis.

“I’m one step closer to playing in our U.S. Open,” Bhatia said, smiling. “I just want to have fun in the next event. I’ll have a lot of people rooting for me, so it will be exciting.”

And should he play well enough to make it to Erin Hills?

“It would be a dream come true,” he said. “The odds of playing in it are very slim, but I believe in myself to make it. It would be awesome. But we’ll see.”

Bhatia has another U.S. Golf Association event before the U.S. Open sectional. Bhatia and Grayson Wotnosky of Wake Forest often play and practice together at TPC Wakefield Plantation, and the two qualified as a team to play this month in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship in Pinehurst.

“Again, it should be fun,” Bhatia said. “We’re best friends. It will be interesting.”

Wotnosky, 15, had a 74 Wednesday at Lonnie Poole.

Womble, 23, is a High Point native and once was a junior star in the Carolinas. He was a steady four-year starter for Wake Forest coach Jerry Haas and was named an academic All-America.

Many college golfers have tunnel vision, their eyes locked in on a pro golf career. Womble took a job as a corporate strategy analyst with Hanesbrands in Winston-Salem rather than, say, enter a Web.com Tour qualifying event or try to grind his way through minor-league golf.

“It was a good choice for me,” Womble said. “I’m enjoying playing golf and falling in love with the game again.”

Womble, tall and lanky at 6-6, said he has attempted to qualify for the U.S. Open in the past but hadn’t reached the sectionals. Lonnie Poole was a good course for him – he said he once shot 62 in an N.C. Amateur qualifier.

Like Bhatia, Womble realizes it’s a long shot to go through local and sectional qualifying and grab a spot in the Open field. Then again, he said, “Somebody has to do it every year. If I play like I did today, I’ll be absolutely fine. I played really solidly.”

It wasn’t the first U.S. Open qualifier for Bhatia, either. The first, he said, was when he was 10. And a scratch golfer.

Source: newsobserver.com

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