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2024 PGA Tour: Akshay Bhatia Wins Valero Texas Open Regardless of Damage

2024 PGA Tour: Akshay Bhatia Wins Valero Texas Open Regardless of Damage

On Sunday, April 7, 2024, Akshay Bhatia approached the final round of the Valero Texas Open raring to go. The blinders were on, and so was the one-liner “race my race” stencilled on his wrist. There seemed little reason why the Indian American, the 54-hole leader, could not wrap it up for his second win on the PGA Tour.

He did, but not before losing a six-shot lead and injuring his shoulder in celebration of forcing the playoff. Making birdie on the first sudden death hole, the gigantic trophy was finally Bhatia’s — along with the trademark black Texan cowboy boots.

The hours of anxiety leading to what transpired at the Valero Texas Open on the 18th green of TPC San Antonio (Oaks Course), and Akshay Bhatia becoming the final entrant to the 2024 Masters tournament was one more example of why golf is so similar to life in its unpredictability.

Akshay Bhatia and his hard-won victory at the 2024 Valero Texas Open

Bhatia came into Sunday with a healthy four-shot lead over Denny McCarthy, and with the focus Bhatia has come to develop over time, the odds favoured him at -350, compared to McCarthy, the man in chase of a breakthrough on Tour, at +400.

But then, golf is a stressful sport, known to leave players emotionally drained. Bhatia did not fall to the pressures of leading for 54 holes and the rarer prospect of a wire-to-wire win. It was the brilliance of the man in pursuit that left him uncomfortable through Sunday.

Shooting 9-under under the gun on the final day isn’t common, but here was McCarthy, a man driven by the cause of ending a winless run in his 174th start on Tour. His eight-under 28 for a record back-nine at San Antonio ate up the six-shot lead, and gave Bhatia the sinking feeling of losing the tournament.

Tour stats show McCarthy as among the better men on the green, hence Bhatia’s fears weren’t unfounded. “He (McCarthy) is one of the best putters out here and when you see him get hot, it’s scary because I had a six-shot lead going into the back nine and all of a sudden, we’re tied going into 18.”

In a nod to the words “race my race” on his wrist, which meant to keep at it irrespective of whatever unfolded around him, and the stencilled “W-T-W (Wire-to-Wire)” as an add-on for Sunday, Bhatia did what was in his control, play good golf and hence the 5-under 67 and the final score of 20-under 268 (63, 70, 68, 67).

A son keeps his word

If there wasn’t already enough drama and tension on the course, Bhatia also unexpectedly sustained an injury after a furious fist pump led his shoulder to pop out of its socket. He had been celebrating his birdie putt on the 72nd hole to make the playoff. A physiotherapist had to attend to him at the first playoff hole.

“This shoulder I’ve had some issues with and yeah, when I made that putt and I kind of raised my arm, it kind of came out of socket and went back in,” Bhatia said to reporters. “Thankfully [the physiotherapist] was still around and taped it up good and it felt good hitting that wedge shot.”

That freak accident didn’t faze him, though. After all, winning wasn’t just about Bhatia getting closer to the trophy, prize cheque of USD 1.656 million and 500 FedExCup points.

It was also about keeping a promise to his beloved mother. “My mom’s birthday was on April 1 and her wish was to get into the Masters, so I hope I make her proud,” said Bhatia.

After shifting from India many years ago, his parents Sonny and Renu have tracked their son’s progress with pride, and his journey has made them feel their move to the United States has been fruitful.

akshay bhatia valero texas open 2024 pga
Akshay Bhatia of the United States plays his tee shot on the 18th hole during the final round of the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio on April 07, 2024 in San Antonio, Texas. (Image: Raj Mehta/ Getty Images)

With a tired body and wearier mind, a break this Masters week would have been a respite, but all that has changed. Bhatia will now do the customary drive down the iconic Magnolia Lane of the Augusta National Golf Club, where practice rounds begin Monday, April 8, and the tournament itself from April 11 to 14.

No time for rest

In the midst of the adrenaline rush, Bhatia will take time to put everything into perspective. A second career win at 22, a 2-0 record in playoffs (the 2023 Barracuda Championship was his breakthrough), making his maiden Masters (and second career Major) at the eleventh hour, fatigue hasn’t been accounted for. Bhatia will have to pull through physical discomfort and keep going, for that’s the price of success.

Triumph through adversity is what Bhatia believes he has signed up for. The win at Barracuda came when he wasn’t sure he was ready to win, but thereafter whenever he’s been in contention, Bhatia has come away better informed. “I learned a lot about myself, shots I wish I would have backed off of and I would have probably had a better chance of winning the golf tournament. So, I took that into consideration this week,” he said.

The perspective came out louder on the first Masters experience. “I played Augusta in 2020, I had a member take me out. I remember how amazing that place is. But to realise that I’m playing the Masters next week, it’s absolutely crazy. But…I have bigger goals than just playing the Masters, I have more goals that I want to achieve.”

In the zone, but…

If Bhatia was in his element, McCarthy, 31, was in a zone where it was about sticking to the process, committing to each shot without worrying about the outcome. For a man brimming with confidence, the end to Sunday will sting for a while, but no setback is big enough to stop McCarthy from believing that he is good enough to win the Masters, despite not experiencing the unique situations and pressures that Augusta throws at the players.

“I know that the work that I’ve put in, I’m hitting the ball really nice, chipping and putting really nice. I did that really well all week, especially Sunday afternoon, last group. It stings right now, but I found a lot of good things in my game this week mentally and physically, so I’m looking forward to the rest of the year,” he said.

Some respite at last

Not since 2010 had world no. 2 Rory McIlroy played five events in a season without a top-10. That changed with the sole third in Texas. Going into the Masters with a round like Sunday’s 6-under 66, McIlroy claims to be in a better spot than he was a couple of weeks ago.

If at all something needs to be kept in check, it is McIlroy himself. “Control of myself, my emotions and thoughts. If I can control those, it makes the physical control of everything a lot easier and a lot simpler. Just to me next week (at Augusta) is all about discipline, about staying in control of yourself and in control of what you can control. If I can do that well, then the rest will follow,” said the man in quest of the only Major out of his grasp.

Monumental week

The last of Charley Hoffman’s four wins on the PGA Tour came at the Valero Texas Open in 2016, and it was only appropriate that Hoffman joined the rare club of achievers with 500+ appearances on Tour here.

Negotiating the pro circuit since 2000, the 47-year-old lost count in between but once realisation dawned the week of the WM Phoenix Open in February, the plans were drawn up.

“I strategically picked this week to have it done because it’s so dear to my heart and a place where the family I knew during spring break could come and celebrate that sort of stuff with me. It’s quite mind blowing,” he said.

Less than six per cent of players on the PGA Tour have made it this far, and Hoffman thinks it will get tougher with time. “The unicorn of 500 starts is going to be even harder to attain in the future for PGA Tour players. Guys are traditionally playing less, there’s rumblings of a shorter season and so on and so forth.”

Golf can be bizarre

After Saturday of the Valero Texas Open, Ludvig Aberg will be doubly careful that the screws that hold the driver head to the shaft are fastened securely.

The Swede, who burst on to the international scene last year with a win each on the PGA Tour and DP World Tour, could have fared a lot worse than the T14 finish.

Aberg’s tee shot on the 17th was a scorcher at 301 yards, but the moment he drove, the driver head came off and rolled several feet down the fairway.

Despite the shock, Aberg collected himself to make birdie, courtesy of his driving prowess, and went to play the remaining round with a backup driver.

The player owned up. “It’s on me,” he said. “I should’ve checked. … It was odd. It was bizarre. It was just quite surreal.”

(Main and featured images: Raj Mehta/ Getty Images)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)

– Who won the 2024 Valero Texas Open?

Akshay Bhatia won a pitched battle with Denny McCarthy to win the 2024 Valero Texas Open on the first playoff hole. With this, Bhatia joins the handful of players to have won twice on Tour at 22.

– What are the perks of Akshay Bhatia’s win at the Valero Texas Open?

The biggest in the line of benefits is the maiden entry to the 2024 Masters Tournament. Besides the winner’s cheque of USD 1.656 million, out of a total purse of USD 9.2 million, 500 FedExCup points and climb to No 12 in the FedExCup standings, Bhatia is entered for the remaining four Signature events of the season, and fully exempt through the 2026 PGA Tour season.

– What was Akshay Bhatia’s margin of win at the 2024 Valero Texas Open?

Going into the back-nine on Sunday, Akshay Bhatia had a six-shot lead, but Denny McCarthy’s record-setting back-nine saw him draw level at 20-under 268. It went into a playoff, and Bhatia birdied the first sudden-death hole to triumph.

Source: Prestige Online

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