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2024 PGA Tour: Cam Davis Defeats Akshay Bhatia at Rocket Mortgage Classic With Emotional Win

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Golf is cruel, and we need to look no further than Akshay Bhatia’s three-putt for bogey on the 72nd hole of the 2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic. To understand how fortunes can change in a short span, Bhatia had the momentum going into Sunday, June 30, as the only player without a bogey in his 54-hole co-lead. The bogey on the 3rd did not pinch on account of his superb recovery, but that miss from four feet on the 18th for a playoff with the winner Cam Davis will sting for some time.

Concurrently, the champion was in shock too. “It was a combination of feeling bad for [Akshay], but at the same time just realising that the huge burden of trying to win again is off the shoulders,” said Davis on being called a winner on the PGA Tour after a three-year gap.

As it often happens after the breakthrough win, the floodgates open up, but Davis was left searching. The top-10s kept trickling in but not at a pace that gave Davis hope that if he kept grinding at practice, the results would show up.

“I felt like opportunities have been slipping out of my hands as the year progressed without playing very good golf. I had a great week at the Masters (T12) and it felt like since it all had left me,” said Davis.

Cam Davis beats the odds and wins 2024 Rocket Mortgage Classic

Fresh direction

The mindset and his Golf needing a fresh look, Davis approached a hypnotherapist two weeks ago for the change in direction. There was a caveat though. “I’m definitely someone that will start doing something and if it doesn’t feel like it’s helping straight away, it’s very easy to drop it,” he said.

To his relief, the impact was immediate and even though the T48 the week before at the Travelers Championship wasn’t a reflection of the ongoing work, Davis could understand the space he found himself vis-à-vis three weeks back.

Landing at the Detroit Golf Club was a catalyst in the comeback trail as the Rocket Mortgage Classic is a venerable turf for the towering Aussie. Since the breakthrough here in 2021, Davis never finished worse than T17, and even though a win was furthest on the mind going into Sunday, a strong finish awaited if the mind and putter withstood the pressure of being in contention after a while.

Withstanding the feeling that it wasn’t going to be his day, Davis passed the test, and by the time his final putt of the week rolled in on the 18th green, the mind had started to prepare for the playoff with Bhatia, who was on track till then.

Amid the empathy for Bhatia as he missed out, Davis also put to rest the regret that he hadn’t won enough after 2021. “It’s been a very frustrating few years because I saw a lot of young guys at 21 and 22 coming out and winning multiple times. To not be one of those guys, especially now I’m almost 30, I wish I was doing and had done at their age.”

Hope floats

That is past tense, and now’s the time to look ahead with anticipation, especially “after seeing the game trending in the wrong direction”. “To pop out of the depths and do this (win) again, puts a little spark back. I want to be out here; I want to be winning tournaments,” said Davis, happy he made it happen again on a course which stands out for him with its “old-school design”.

By matching his winning score of 18-under 270 (68, 66, 66, 70) in 2021, Davis became the first two-time winner of the USD 9.2 million event, and leapfrogged the FedExCup standings to No 40 courtesy the 500 points on offer apart from the USD 1.656 million top cheque.

Back to setting goals

Given the way the past few seasons went by, an in-despair Davis stopped short of setting career goals. Now that the ‘W’ bridge has been crossed, to dream is human, and Davis has a few targets on the bucket list.

His chances in the International Team have gone up several notches with the 2024 Presidents Cup less than three months away from tee-off at the Royal Montreal Golf Club in late September.

“I’ve got two more big goals of finishing high on the FedExCup and also try to get on that Presidents Cup team.”

The regret of missing out on the Paris Olympics was mentioned as well, but Davis can take heart “that the good golf is in there, I want to just keep that rolling, and I’ve still got plenty to play for this year”.

The grind never stops

When Aaron Rai joined the PGA Tour in 2022, he came with the proven track record of a four-time winner on the DP World Tour.

But like every week in pro Golf, shifting stage and continent meant he had to start from scratch in proving himself once more on world Golf’s biggest and most demanding platform.

The Rocket Mortgage Classic had held out hope that following the process with diligence despite negligible returns — just 5 top-5s in 84 Tour starts, would be rewarded. Rai went into the final with a share of the 54-hole lead with Bhatia, but Sunday willed otherwise.

Rai admitted there were “too many loose shots and I didn’t really keep the round going as well as what I could have as the last three days”.

There is hope that with the first runner-up finish in his 85th start, Rai has turned the corner. There is much to look forward to, like playing this week’s John Deere Classic for the first time, and the 29-year-old will take heart from the way he handled himself over the weekend, and “positives on the mental front, and from the game as well”.

Gutted as he was at not being able to seal his 2024 season’s second win after the Valero Texas Open, Bhatia, the 54-hole co-leader and the only bogey-free player till Sunday, will continue to believe that he is playing good golf, which will help him contend at The Open, the season’s final Major.

The season stats uphold Bhatia’s belief. In 20 starts, he has 1 win, 1 runner-up and three top-10s. If it is about momentum, Bhatia has it too with 11 top-25s as he charts his course. He is prepared for instances like Sunday coming his way again, but to feel the nerves under the gun is human, and Bhatia took ownership of the late slip.

Week of wonderkids

Miles Russell would have bargained for a better deal than the missed cut in his PGA Tour debut. After all, he came into the week on the back of some heavy-duty amateur accomplishments.

Russell, 15, became the youngest to make cut on the Korn Ferry Tour in April, so, when a sponsor’s invite came along for Detroit, Russell was hoping to stand a lot taller than his 5’7’’ frame. With rounds of 74, 70, he missed the weekend by a whisker but the experience of teeing off the best will come handy when he returns to competing in the amateur ranks and with players closer to his age.

miles russell 2024 rocket mortgage classic
Fifteen-year-old Miles Russell became the youngest to make cut on the Korn Ferry Tour in April 2024. (Image: Miles Russell/ Instagram)

There is a chance that he could be playing his first Major in 2025, and for that Russell is keyed in. The US Junior Amateur next month offers a spot to the winner at Oakmont (US Open venue) in 2025, and after sampling the competition on golf’s highest tier, Russell will be licking his lips.

After none with the status finishing top-10 last season, the 2024 season has been kind to amateurs. It started with Nick Dunlap winning the American Express, followed by Jackson Van Paris notching a T10 at the Puerto Rico Open.

Twenty-year-old Nuke Clanton added to the list with the season’s third top-10 by an amateur on Sunday. Super driven as he terms himself, the student of Florida State University is certain of what lies ahead.

“I think amateurs now, we’re so good. I think a lot of guys have great chances of winning out here [on the PGA Tour] and to be able to contend [on my Tour debut] is pretty sweet,” said Clanton.

(Main and featured images: Rocket Mortgage Classic/ Instagram)

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