Full circle: Akshay Bhatia goes from youth competition to Masters

Akshay Bhatia reacts to a birdie putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the Texas Open golf tournament, Sunday, April 7, 2024, in San Antonio. Bhatia defeated Denny McCarthy in a playoff. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Akshay Bhatia reacts to a birdie putt on the 18th hole during the final round of the Texas Open golf tournament, Sunday, April 7, 2024, in San Antonio. Bhatia defeated Denny McCarthy in a playoff. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Akshay Bhatia will play in his first Masters, a big perk of winning the Valero Texas Open on Sunday.

It won’t be, however, the first time he has competed at Augusta National.

Bhatia, now 22, competed in the national finals of the Drive, Chip and Putt competition as a 12-year-old in 2014. He becomes the first youth golfer to make it all the way from the finals of the competition to the major golf tournament. He is the first to win a PGA Tour event. Bhatia also won the 2023 Barracuda Classic last year.

Bhatia was one of 88 youths to be in the first group to play the inaugural national finals at Augusta National. He placed sixth in the age 12-13 group 10 years ago. The putting finals of the competition is held on the 18th green at Augusta. The drive and chip competitions are held at the practice complex.

Now, Bhatia will get to play the entire course.

After the win, the Masters posted on social media: “The field for the 88th Masters Tournament is set. See you back at Augusta National, Akshay.”

To win the Texas Open, Bhatia had to hold off Denny McCarthy, after holding a six-stroke lead, in a sudden death playoff. McCarthy hit his approach to the par-5 18th green in the water. Bhatia was able to pull out the win after suffering a shoulder injury pumping his fist after making a birdie putt on the same 18th green to match McCarthy and force the extra hole.

McCarthy erased his once six-shot deficit with a back nine 28, draining the last of seven straight birdies on the 18th green.

“This shoulder I’ve had some issues with and 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 on a television interview after the win.