Will Zalatoris has another close call at U.S. Open
5 Min Read
Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin
Will Zalatoris hits tee shot to 6 feet to set up birdie at U.S. Open
BROOKLINE, Mass. – The emotion was palpable, the sting more severe. His runner-up finish at last month’s PGA Championship instilled confidence. This one just hurt.
Will Zalatoris was runner-up in a second consecutive major, but this was different than the playoff loss at Southern Hills. He holed a pair of 8-footers on the final two holes to force a playoff with Justin Thomas at the PGA. This time, Zalatoris’ birdie putt on the 72nd hole burned the edge, leaving him a stroke behind U.S. Open winner Matt Fitzpatrick. It was Zalatoris’ third runner-up in just nine appearances in majors.
Zalatoris held a two-stroke lead with eight holes to play at The Country Club. After two bogeys followed by a dramatic birdie at the par-3 16th, he had 15 feet for birdie at No. 18 to force a playoff with Fitzpatrick. The left-to-right breaking putt was well struck, but it hung out on the left side. He tapped in for a 5-under total and a share of second with longtime friend Scottie Scheffler, who’d nabbed his first major earlier this year at the Masters.
Zalatoris was inches from following in his friend’s footsteps. It was just the latest in a series of close calls. Zalatoris already has six top-10s in majors.
His first runner-up came in the 2021 Masters. He was grateful for the opportunity after playing his way off of the Korn Ferry Tour and into the top 50 in the world. Finishing second at this year’s PGA cured his “imposter syndrome.” He no longer questioned if he belonged. He stated that he would be prepared for the next opportunity. He felt he was ready.
Despite an admittedly erratic driver, Zalatoris carded four rounds of par or better at Brookline and had a chance until his very last putt.
So the emotion was palpable – and understandable.
“I’d pay a lot of money for about an inch-and-a-half, and I’d probably be a three-time major champion at this point,” said Zalatoris. “I think this one is probably going to take a bit more processing than (the PGA Championship). I’ve got no regrets. I thought I played great all week, especially getting off to the start that I did today (2 over through three).
“It stings, obviously … to have three runners-up so far in my career in majors. But keep knocking on that door. Obviously we’re doing the right things.”
Zalatoris has wanted to win a major since he was 6 years old and saw Ken Venturi’s 1964 U.S. Open trophy on display at the California Golf Club of San Francisco, one of two courses on which he developed a love for the game, the other being the par-3 Mariners Point Golf Center (where he visited the day after last fall’s Fortinet Championship, bringing his childhood golf clubs and successfully re-creating a hole-in-one at the second hole.)
The Wake Forest alum carries reverence for the game’s history. During Sunday’s final round at The Country Club, his shirt displayed the silhouettes of 1913 U.S. Open winner Francis Ouimet and his 10-year-old caddie, Eddie Lowery. Playing as an amateur, Ouimet took down established British pros Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in one of American sports’ first true underdog stories.
This time, the Englishman prevailed. But Zalatoris moved up to eighth in the FedExCup, 12th in the world ranking and bolstered his Presidents Cup candidacy. This was the third runner-up finish of the season for Zalatoris, the highest-ranked player in both the FedExCup and world ranking without a PGA TOUR win.
He’s been a fixture on major leaderboards in the last two years, making it easy to forget from where he has come. He failed to advance through the first stage of 2018 Q-School, starting a long and winding road to the TOUR. He parlayed Monday qualifiers and sponsor exemptions into status on the Korn Ferry Tour, then played his way off of that circuit in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, prematurely earning a PGA TOUR card with a strong run that started with a T6 at the 2020 U.S. Open that introduced him to the greater golf world. His consistent work ethic, trust in his practice regiment and unwavering self-belief kept him moving forward during those times of uncertainty. It was only last year that he was named PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year after starting the year without any status.
“It’s almost like he expected to do that,” said Pierceson Coody, No. 1 on the 2022 PGA TOUR University presented by Velocity Global Ranking, who practices alongside Zalatoris at Maridoe GC outside Dallas. “It sounds cocky, but I truly think that Will expected to come out (on the Korn Ferry Tour) and play great and just go to the TOUR.
“He has had instructors that have tried to change his swing for better or worse, and he’s really stuck true to what he knows works. I think that’s a big reason why he’s had a consistent rise the last three, three-and-a-half years.”
That rise led him to a chance at a playoff on the 72nd hole at The Country Club. On Father’s Day, Zalatoris joked that he “probably took a year or two off my dad’s life.”
His competitive mettle has grown through adversity. His belief has grown through day-in and day-out success at the highest level – he and Fitzpatrick were the only two players without a round over par at The Country Club.
All the while, he maintains a keen understanding of golf’s complex nature and a willingness to embrace it. He thrives on golf’s most difficult setups and embraces the stage. He has no doubt that he’ll be back.
“This one hurts, in particular, pretty hard,” said Zalatoris, “but it’s motivating. I know I’m going to get one sooner or later.”
The sincerity in his voice was palpable.
Kevin Prise is an associate editor for PGATOUR.COM. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.