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Bhatia, Theegala inspire Indian golf


AUGUSTA (AFP) — 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 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 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.

“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.

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