17-year-old golf phenom from Wake Forest draws strength from his family

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (WTVD) -- A 17-year-old in Wake Forest is one of the best young golfers in the world, and his family is part of his strength.

We couldn't speak to Akshay Bhatia on Monday, because he was busy golfing--having teed off around 2:30 for his first round of stroke play at the US Amateur in Pinehurst. But where Akshay goes, so goes his family. Dad Sonny, mother Renu and sister Rhea travel as many places as they can with their savant son/sibling, providing an encouraging backbone as he takes on the best in the world.

Rhea is an accomplished player in her own right, having played for Queen's University in Charlotte. She knows the game and its inherent intricacies and frustrations. She told me she prefers to share insights with her brother when he's practicing, and leaves him largely alone while he's competing, recognizing that he's more than equipped for the challenge. She also said he wakes up every tournament morning "in the zone."

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His mother bears her nerves, if there are any, very quietly. She says her biggest job is just being a mother. Sometimes that means cheering him on after a great performance, sometimes it means encouraging him after a less than stellar outing. Either way, it always includes a hug.

Bhatia is currently the 5th ranked amateur player in the world. To give you an idea how exceptional he is, Jordan Spieth at the same age hadn't yet cracked the top 30.

Of course, having a special talent like Bhatia's requires special care. Sonny and Renu have been very careful not to apply any pressure or expectations on their son, allowing him to flourish and continue to enjoy the game. It helps that he's passionate about golfing and seems preternaturally mature and level-headed for his age. Golf, especially at his level, can be a maddening pursuit, but he never looks flustered.

Bhatia will make his PGA Tour debut in September in Napa, California. It figures to be the start of his rise to professional super stardom. This week though, there's a more pressing prize to pursue. "Shay" would certainly like to add his name among the legends who've won the Havemeyer Trophy as US Amateur champ. But if he doesn't, that's OK too. For the Bhatias, golf is not a zero sum game.
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