GOLF: Zalatoris having fun making his name known on PGA Tour

He may not even have his proper PGA Tour card yet, but Will Zalatoris is already looking like a proven star. At the age of 24, he took a trip to Augusta National last week and nearly won the thing. Now a million dollars richer after his runner-up finish at the Masters, he’ll look for a statement victory this week in the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing at Harbour Town Golf Links. 

It’s been a ride unlike any other for Zalatoris, whose climb to the sport’s top level has been impacted by the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The San Francisco native earned his way to full Korn Ferry Tour status through success in Monday qualifying and captured the TPC Colorado Championship last July to ignite his career. He earned a berth in September’s US Open and took advantage of the golden opportunity, notching an elusive top-10 finish to qualify for a variety of top-level events, including the 2021 Masters. 

The young standout was on his way to a full-time PGA Tour membership at the top of the Korn Ferry standings, but because of the pandemic, no cards were awarded last year due to the shortened season. Despite this, Zalatoris has still blazed a path to an incredible 27th in the Official World Golf Rankings by a pair of remarkable top-10 major finishes. And he’s appreciated every moment during the climb. 

“I really haven’t taken anything for granted over the last two years, going from Mondaying for Korn Ferry events to playing on the Korn Ferry Tour, possibly playing the Korn Ferry Tour for two years to then playing in my first Masters,” Zalatoris said. “It’s a crazy wild ride that I’ve enjoyed every single minute of.” 

His strength by far is his iron play, which has the capability of serving him well on a shot-maker’s course like Harbour Town Golf Links. With little room for error on Pete Dye’s unforgiving track, only the most precise of golfers can find consistent success. If Zalatoris continues his elite ball-striking and iron play, the pinpoint accuracy can translate into another lucrative weekend. 

The young phenom grew up, like so many others, idolizing the great Tiger Woods. He became in awe of his championship mentality and will to win no matter the difficulties and has displayed it again and again in his own career on his way to the sport’s highest levels.

But one of the biggest lessons that Zalatoris has taken from the game’s greats like Woods: just have fun. Everyone knows how much stress an event like the Masters can bring, especially for a young golfer looking to make his name known, but Zalatoris used it simply as an opportunity to fulfill a dream and play the game he loves at the most renowned course in the world.

“I’m playing in the Masters; I don’t have anything to lose,” he said of his mentality last week.”I’m playing in my first Masters; let’s enjoy this. I’ve watched this tournament for 20 years; let’s go have some fun. You know, I think — I still wish I could put into words how much fun I actually had.” 

He’s become a household name in a flash through his brilliant play on the brightest of stages, and also earned pop culture’s attention after several comparisons to Happy Gilmore’s caddy in the famous 1996 comedy, along with connections to Wedding Crashers star Owen Wilson. But he’s far more than just a sidekick on the course and is ready to make a massive splash in his young career at Harbour Town. 

“I’ve really done a good job of just kind of playing my game, playing within myself, and I’ve done that literally since Monday qualifiers on the Korn Ferry Tour,” Zalatoris said. “To be in contention on a Sunday at Augusta was obviously a dream come true. Obviously to come up one short will sting forever, but I know that I can contend against the best players in the world, and I know I’m capable of getting those two shots somewhere pretty soon.”

By Wes Kerr

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