Will Zalatoris shoots 61 after making seven consecutive birdies
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Written by Sean Martin @twitter.com/pgatoursmartin
Will Zalatoris closes with seven straight birdies at The American Express
LA QUINTA, Calif. – After a few difficult months, everything went right for Will Zalatoris in Friday’s second round of The American Express.
Even after losing his footing on the last tee, and fearing that his ball was headed for some bushes, he was able to walk off with one more birdie. It was his seventh in a row to end his round, good for a 61 that was 10 shots better than a frustrating first round at this tournament where low scores are a necessity. The player who turned heads last season by going straight from the Korn Ferry Tour to contending in majors is back in contention after a quiet stretch.
“I think today I just gave myself chances, I hit a lot close and made a couple 20, 30 footers to keep the round going and obviously … making birdie on 9 from the wrong fairway is kind of the icing on the cake,” Zalatoris said.
His drive on that final hole sailed into the rough on the adjacent first hole at PGA West’s Nicklaus Tournament Course. He capitalized on the good break by hitting a 6-iron from 212 yards to 15 feet and lipping in the birdie putt. That final birdie put him on the first page of the leaderboard.
He started Friday in 96th place after hitting just 10 greens in his opening round at the 7,060 La Quinta Country Club. That was unacceptable for a player who finished in the top 10 of Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green last season. He blamed the poor performance with his irons on being overly cautious in his first PGA TOUR round since November.
Josh Gregory, Zalatoris’ short-game coach, encouraged his student to take more chances, telling him, “If you want to shoot 64, you have to be willing to shoot 74.”
“I clipped it today,” Zalatoris said.
He entered this week ranked 83rd in the FedExCup. He started the season with a pair of top-15 finishes, but has just one top-10 on TOUR since finishing T8 at the PGA Championship in May. That strong showing at Kiawah Island followed his runner-up finish to Hideki Matsuyama at the Masters and T6 in the U.S. Open in the fall of 2020.
Zalatoris admitted Friday that he put too much pressure on himself after contending in those majors. After starting last season without TOUR status, he felt he was playing with “house money” when he parlayed his strong play into special temporary membership and a spot in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking. That gratitude lessened the pressure he felt while appearing on the leaderboard at Winged Foot, Augusta National and Kiawah Island.
After the Masters, he was discussed as a candidate for the Ryder Cup team and looked to be following a path forged by Jordan Spieth, with whom he’d been competing since they were kids in Dallas. Spieth started his first TOUR season without status, but was able to pick up a win, make it to East Lake and earn a spot on the Presidents Cup team. Zalatoris fell off that pace in the second half of 2021, though. Then he got hurt at The Open Championship and had to withdraw with a back injury.
“After Augusta, I thought my expectations and my mindset changed a little bit,” he said. “I was trying to win tournaments, I was working honestly too hard, worked myself all the way into an injury and I knew that that was kind of where I needed to take a step back.
“The first six months (of 2021) were incredible. I learned a lot from it, playing that well and being in contention, but the last six months I really gained a lot more out of it, of just not forcing it. … I just need to keep this attitude going in the future.”
A return to that free-wheeling mindset could lead to that first win that Zalatoris has been waiting for.
Sean Martin manages PGATOUR.COM’s staff of writers as the Lead, Editorial. He covered all levels of competitive golf at Golfweek Magazine for seven years, including tournaments on four continents, before coming to the PGA TOUR in 2013. Follow Sean Martin on Twitter.