Shirtless and mud-spattered – golf fans tuning in to the Honda Classic on Saturday would have been forgiven for thinking they’d switched over to the wrong channel.
Because not just once, but twice during his third round, American golfer Akshay Bhatia was forced into an impromptu wardrobe change at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
The first came at the sixth hole, when the 21-year-old’s tee drive settled in the muddy banks on the left of the fairway. A shirtless shot followed as Bhatia successfully scooped his ball back onto the fairway, the splashes of mud across his chest suggesting that the shirt removal was a smart decision.
A superb approach and putt saw the world No. 357 save par superbly, yet despite the best efforts of his caddie and a towel, the hole had left its mark on Bhatia. Fortunately, his girlfriend was on hand with a change of clothes, and the golfer pushed on with his round.
Bhatia had been riding the wave of an excellent second round, but effectively saw any chance of a first PGA Tour victory collapse across four holes. A run of bogey, par, double bogey and bogey saw Bhatia arrive at the par-three 15th hole needing a big response, only for his tee shot to sail over the flag and into the swampy area behind the green.
Almost knee deep in the mud, this time it was shirt and shoes off for Buhai. Unfortunately, he could not repeat his earlier escape effort, as his first attempt barely moved a yard.
Buhai eventually tapped in for another painful double bogey, later carding a four-over par 74 for the round, yet the American was cheered back to the clubhouse by fans.
“A lot of claps. Makes you feel good,” Buhai told reporters. “I feel like my body looks good, and hopefully on TV it makes it look a little bigger.
“It was amazing. This is a pretty new experience for me. Just having a lot of fans. It’s funny, [playing partner] Dylan [Frittelli] was saying, ‘Are you from here? Like how much are you paying these guys to say your name?’ And it’s just really cool because I take a lot of pride.
“It brings warmth to my heart when people are shouting my name, cheering me on. It’s really just a fun experience, and I hope to have more of it.”
A final day 69 saw Bhatia finish tied 49th, 13 shots behind champion Chris Kirk. Having secured victory on his first start as a Korn Ferry Tour member at the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic in January 2022 and making the cut on his major debut at the US Open the previous year, Bhatia already has several career highlights.
Yet his bizarre experience in Florida has him keeping his options open, according to his most recent Instagram post.
“If golf doesn’t work out, might give modeling a try,” the caption read.