Akshay Bhatia Receives Special Membership on the PGA Tour and Discusses His Heart Rate Soaring to This Moment | Golf news and tour information
It was one of those quiet moments near the 18th green that TV viewers and fans mostly miss but is life changing for players. Akshay Bhatia finished last week’s PGA Tour Puerto Rico Open with a yardage and a finals score of 65, which put him alone in second place behind winner Nico Echavarria. He then walked over to his caddy, who wanted to make sure Bhatia understood the gravity of what he had just achieved, apart from earning the biggest paycheck of $414,000, which was the biggest of his career.
“He’s like, ‘Do you know what just happened?'” Bhatia recalled Tuesday. “And I said, ‘No.’ He says, ‘You have your card.’”
Finishing second in his fourth start on the PGA Tour this season, Bhatia accumulated enough non-member points to earn Special Temporary Membership, which was made official Tuesday before the Valspar Championship for which he qualified , thanks for the top 10 result in Puerto Rico. Bhatia can now request and receive unlimited sponsorship waivers for the season.
In order for Bhatia to earn full 2024 status, he must earn as many or more non-member FedEx Cjup Points as the #125 player in the 2023-23 FedEx Cup Final Playoffs and tally of eligibility points totaled on End of Fall 2023 season. With a current score of 230 FedEx Cup points, the Tour calculated that Bhatia would sit between 91st and 92nd overall. In the new format of the tour, beginning 24, the top 70 players will earn full-time status after the 23 playoffs.
All the benefits of that performance began to wane for Bhatia before the 18th green in Puerto Rico.
“It was a crazy feeling,” Bhatia said. “Just the highlights of it – it was definitely high on my list at the moment, even with the Korn Ferry Tour win. … It was pretty surreal, and hugging my girlfriend Presleigh at 18 … it’s just an amazing moment for us and everything we’ve kind of been through in the last few years.”
Bhatia, who rose to fame at last month’s Honda Classic when he had to remove his jersey twice during one round to smash shots out of the mud, spoke about how excited he was as he made his way to the 18th hole in the Grand Reserve made country club.
“I was struggling with high heart rates on the golf course and the crowd was getting bigger and bigger and I could never have imagined that in Puerto Rico for myself with 80, 90, 100 people watching our group. …I checked my whoop heart rate after the round, and on my third beat to 18, my heart rate went up to 156 bpm, which is pretty insane.
This week will be a time to come full circle, Bhatia said. The 21-year-old Los Angeles native avoided college and turned pro at 17. Making his debut on the PGA Tour as a 17-year-old amateur at the Valspar in 2019, he missed the cut and returning to the Tour was difficult. Bhatia played his most events, 11, on the PGA Tour in 2020-21 and missed seven cuts. His best finish was a T-9 at the Safeway Open.
At last season’s Korn Ferry Tour, Bhatia won his opening start in the Bahamas by finishing with a 65. That seemed to set him up for the year, although he would not finish another top 10 in 23 other starts and missed 13 cuts.
Bhatia has had a strong start on two tours this year. He has two top-7 finishes in four KFT starts and has made the cut in all four of his PGA Tour appearances.
His work on the PGA Tour will now seek top-10 finishes at other events to get more starts, while also asking sponsors for exceptions. As a temporary member, he is not limited to how many he can receive.
“I had no idea what adversity meant in 2019 and I fully understand it now,” Bhatia said. “I’ve had so many ups and downs in this game as a pro – not being able to rent a car, not being able to check into hotels. So it was a big challenge to deal with a lot of these external things that I never had to deal with.
“Just confidence, learning a lot, playing a lot of golf at a high level, that makes a big difference. This is my 23rd PGA Tour event and I say that at 21. … I’m very happy with all the opportunities I’ve had. There is not much more to say than just keep learning and honing.”