Imagine you’ve been tearing it up in junior tournaments all summer and you’re looking to add the U.S. Amateur at at Pebble Beach to your wins list. Things are going well and, after hitting your second shot on to the green, you and your caddie take a moment to use the bathroom. You finish first and decide to walk ahead.
Meanwhile, your caddie, who’s now lagging behind, asks someone in a golf cart who appears to be a USGA Official for a ride up to the green to keep things moving along. A good deed that most people would praise in light of all the moaning and groaning amateurs do about pace of play. Meanwhile, you finish the hole with a birdie to win the hole and take a 1-up lead.
Well, everyone knows the saying “no good deed goes unpunished,” and that was exactly the case here.
On Wednesday, 16-year-old Akshay Bhatia was playing against Bradford Tilley, with the match all square on the Par-5 14th hole. After hitting his second shot onto the green, Bhatia and his caddie, Chris Darnell, stopped to use a bathroom. Bhatia finished up first and walked up to green, leaving Darnell behind. After initially starting to walk up to the green, Darnell saw what he assumed was a USGA Official in golf cart and, in an attempt to catch up to everyone, asked for a ride up to the green to catch up. Except it turned out that the individual in the golf cart wasn’t a USGA Official, but instead a volunteer, and according to the competition rules, players and caddies are prohibited from riding on any form of transportation during a round, unless authorized.
So after a rules official noticed Darnell riding on the cart, Bhatia was assessed with a penalty and instead of winning the hole and going 1 up against Tilley, the match remained all square. While Bhatia won the 15th hole with a par to go 1 up, he faltered down the stretch, losing the 17th and 19th holes with bogeys.
While most of us would, without hesitation, point the finger and place all the blame on the caddie (who stated that he saw another caddie in his group do the same thing on an earlier hole and, as a result, didn’t think anything of it), Bhatia remained surprisingly collected about the whole ordeal:
“What can you do? I’ll have plenty of opportunities to play in this tournament, so I’m not too upset about it. It’s just frustrating because I deserved to win that match. That wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but I can’t do anything about it.”
Although competitors and caddies were warned about this rule before the start of the match, can you really blame a caddie for failing to distinguish a volunteer from a rules official, especially when they’re wearing similar clothing!? Personally, I blame the volunteer for giving Darnell the OK and not warning him that he was just a volunteer, and not a rules official.
The loss ends a summer during which Bhatia won the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley, the AJGA Polo Golf Classic, and Junior PGA Championship, in addition to reaching the finals of the U.S. Junior Amateur late last month. So while I hope that everyone learns from this lesson and event organizers take measures to avoid similar mix ups in the future, it’s really unfortunate that a talented young golfer was penalized for something entirely outside his control.
Cover Image Via Instagram
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