Masters starters Bhatia, Theegala hope to boost India golf

The 20-something Indian Americans are among 89 players set to begin play on Thursday at Augusta National

By AFP

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Akshay Bhatia of the United States and his caddie Ryan Jamison. — AFP
Akshay Bhatia of the United States and his caddie Ryan Jamison. — AFP

Published: Tue 9 Apr 2024, 5:48 PM

Last updated: Tue 9 Apr 2024, 5:49 PM

Indian-American golfers Akshay Bhatia, coming off a PGA Texas Open triumph, and Sahith Theegala, who won his first PGA title last September, hope their Masters starts can boost India golf.

The 20-something Californians, whose families both emigrated to the United States from India, are among 89 players set to begin play on Thursday at Augusta National.


"I don't know if I quite realize what Sahith and I can do for the golf in India," Bhatia said on Monday. "I know it's really special when I have a bunch of fans looking up to me, a bunch of kids coming up to me.

"I think it's awesome just being able to grow the game just not in the States, but in India. It's special to us, what we can do for golf there is I think awesome, and the development we can accomplish for people over there is really cool."


Theegala was excited at Indian support at the Houston Open last month.

Sahith Theegala of the United States hits a tee shot. — AFP
Sahith Theegala of the United States hits a tee shot. — AFP

"You feel prideful. It's really cool," he said. "In Houston a bunch of young Indian kids came out and followed and my parents were there and they were just encouraging them.

"Probably for a few of the first times, a couple Indian kids came up and said they're playing golf because of me. It's pretty crazy to hear that. But it's cool and hopefully I can keep being an inspiration."

Bhatia's wire-to-wire Texas Open title last week earned him the final spot in this week's Masters field, causing some last-minute changes in plans.

The 22-year-old American is the first player to reach the finals of the junior Drive, Chip and Putt competition at Augusta National, which he did in the 2014 inaugural edition, and qualify for the Masters.

"Just unreal moment for me," Bhatia said. "Just the presence of this place is spectacular and I'm excited to be here as a participant.

"That first time at the Drive, Chip & Putt is pretty surreal as a kid. You just don't realize how lucky we are to have that opportunity.

"For everyone to be so gracious to let some kids hit some golf balls on the range, hit some putts on the 18th green, it was unreal."

Bhatia injured his left shoulder late in his victory Sunday in San Antonio, popping the shoulder out of place with a vigorous fist pump after sinking a long putt to force a playoff.

While it was popped back into place quickly, the shoulder remains a source of concern as he prepares for his Masters debut and only his second major start after a share of 57th at the 2021 US Open.

"The shoulder is going to be a work in progress, for sure," Bhatia said. "I've had it happen two, three times. I had a full dislocation playing pickleball a couple years ago and subluxed in Bermuda in 2021.

"So it's nothing new to me. It's a weird experience because I had so much adrenaline so I had no pain in that playoff.

"But it's definitely something we're going to have to work towards, and I have a lot of trust in my team that we can tee it up on Thursday."

Bhatia was planning on physio work and rest after seven weeks in a row of playing.

"It's a lot of golf, but I also have a ton of adrenaline so it kind of balances out," he said. "I'm hoping my shoulder should be good, but I might be a little scared to hit some shots. We just got to find out."

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