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June 24, 2018

Bhatia shatters Polo Golf Junior Classic scoring record

Akshay Bhatia of Wake Forest, North Carolina.
Rachel Heck of Memphis, Tennessee.

WESTFIELD, N.J. – Akshay Bhatia of Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Rachel Heck of Memphis, Tennessee, won the 41st Polo Golf Junior Classic Friday at Echo Lake Country Club. 

Bhatia went wire-to-wire for the Boys Division victory on his way to setting the Polo Golf Junior Classic scoring record at 17-under-par 267. Heck, on the otherhand, came from behind to earn her second AJGA Invitational title on the final hole of the tournament. 

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Polo Golf Junior Classic, and the 20th anniversary of Polo Ralph Lauren becoming the title sponsor. Past champions of the Polo Golf Junior Classic include Hunter Mahan, Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink, Morgan Pressel, Heather Farr, Lexi Thompson and Paula Creamer.

Bhatia opened the tournament with a 5-under-par 67 and never looked back. The Rolex Junior All-American bested his first-round score with a second-round 7-under-par 64 that broke the Echo Lake Country Club course record by one stroke. After 36 holes Bhatia was also four strokes clear of the Polo Golf Junior Classic scoring record, which was set in 2017 by Karl Vilips of (Australia) Wesley Chapel, Florida, at 8-under-par 280. Bhatia fired his second 5-under-par 66 round in three days to push his lead to 13 strokes entering the final round. The 16-year-old fought through an up-and-down final round and finished with an even-par 71 for his first Invitational victory. Bhatia accounted for 25 birdies over the course of the tournament. 

Bhatia now owns six AJGA victories, along with the 2018 Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club and the 2017 Junior PGA Championship. 

Heck entered the final round two strokes back of Erica Shepherd of Greenwood, Indiana. Heck didn't waste any time putting pressure on the leader as she birdied the first three holes of the round. After four holes Heck had taken a one-stroke lead, though it wouldn't last for long. A bogey on the par-4 No. 6 opened the door for Shepherd, who added two back-nine birdies to match Heck at 4-under-par with a hole to go. Shepherd found trouble off the tee on No. 18, and her par putt just ran past the cup, giving Heck the opportunity to two-putt for the title. Heck's birdie putt came up short, but it was enough to lock up the par and her first AJGA victory of 2018. 

This is the 2017 Rolex Junior Player of the Year's third AJGA victory in addition to the 2018 Kathy Whitworth Invitational and the 2016 Bubba Conlee National Junior. Heck is verbally committed to Stanford University and is No. 2 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings. 

The field, which includes 54 boys and 42 girls, is comprised of 66 AJGA Champions and 31 Rolex Junior All-Americans. Even more, 65 players have committed to play college golf.

The top-ranked boy and girl in the Rolex AJGA Rankings competed at the Polo Golf Junior Classic. Vilips finished in twelfth place at 4-over-par 288, while Lucy Li of Redwood Shores, California, finished third at 2-under-par 282. 

Vilips is the reigning champion of the Polo Golf Junior Classic and is verbally committed to Stanford University. He is the No. 1 ranked boy in the Rolex AJGA Rankings. The Australian has won five AJGA events during his career along with the 2017 Southern Amateur and the 2016 Junior Orange Bowl International Golf Championship. He enters the tournament two weeks removed from his third AJGA Invitational victory at the Wyndham Invitational presented by BB&T.

Li is coming off a career year in 2017 that included three AJGA Invitational victories. The 15-year-old won the ANA Junior Inspiration, The PING Invitational and the Rolex Tournament of Champions on her way to being named a Rolex Junior All-American for the first time. Li also won the 2016 Junior PGA Championship.

Echo Lake Country Club hosts the AJGA for the first time in 2018. Designed by Donald Ross and opened in 1913, the 18-hole course is located on a high bluff that overlooks Echo Lake Park. It is the site of the 117th NJSGA Amateur Championship and the 2018 U.S. Amateur Sectional Qualifier.