Zalatoris makes rapid rise in amateur rankings
February 19, 2015
By Sean Martin , PGATOUR.COM
- Wake Forest freshman Will Zalatoris is No. 8 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings. (Courtesy of Wake Forest)
A former Web.com Tour player with a knack for numbers and the coach of one of the PGA TOUR’s young stars helped Will Zalatoris rapidly become one of the world’s elite amateurs.
Zalatoris, a Wake Forest freshman, is making his PGA TOUR debut at this week’s Northern Trust Open. He’s No. 8 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking after sitting outside the top 3,000 a year ago. Improved putting and a statistical method for improving his course management are behind his improvement.
“It’s kind of crazy to think that I was just hoping to make a cut in an amateur event a year ago, and now I’m playing in a PGA TOUR event,” Zalatoris said. “If you had told me a year ago that I was playing in the Northern Trust Open, I would’ve thought you were crazy.”
He earned his spot by winning the inaugural Northern Trust Collegiate Showcase on Monday, shooting 67 at Riviera Country Club to win by five shots.
Zalatoris, who is from the Dallas suburb of Plano, won last year’s U.S. Junior Amateur, Texas State Amateur and Trans-Mississippi Amateur Championship and advanced to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur. He also earned his first collegiate title, at the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate, in his first semester at Wake Forest.
Many college coaches stopped recruiting Zalatoris after a slump during his sophomore and junior seasons of high school. Wake Forest head coach Jerry Haas offered him the Arnold Palmer Scholarship during that time. He's been rewarded with one of the nation's best players.
Zalatoris began working on his short game with Cameron McCormick – who also instructs Jordan Spieth – in early 2014. Zalatoris switched to “the claw” putting grip soon after they started working together.
“I needed a huge boost in my short game and my full swing just needed to stay the same,” said Zalatoris, who has worked on his full swing for several years with instructor David Price. Price is the head pro at Zalatoris’ home course, Bent Tree Country Club.
That’s also the home course for Scott Fawcett, who played collegiate golf at Texas A&M before taking two turns at professional golf. He played the mini-tours for several years, and qualified for the 1999 U.S. Open (he missed the cut), before regaining his amateur status and making his money when Texas’ energy market was deregulated. He made it to Q-School’s final stage as an amateur in 2008, then turned pro to play the 2009 season with conditional status on the Web.com Tour. He missed the cut in four of six starts and regained his amateur status.
Fawcett started using Mark Broadie's strokes gained statistics to quantitatively evaluate course-management decisions. Fawcett couldn’t play last year’s state amateur because of injury, so he caddied for Zalatoris instead. Zalatoris, who’d recently graduated high school, beat the field by three shots.
Zalatoris said Fawcett “has changed the way I play golf.
“The first time he caddied for me, I told him I picked up 25 years of experience in four rounds. it's kind of a new way of looking at things, and it's really helped me.”
Fawcett estimates Zalatoris has improved four shots per round in the past eight months because of the new putting grip and improved course management.
Fawcett, who earned a degree in finance and economics from Texas A&M, has a website, playinglesson.com, and gives lectures on course management to top college programs like Wake Forest, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
“I tell players to look at their golf shots as a shotgun pattern instead of a sniper’s rifle,” Fawcett said. “You have to plan for the entirety of your spectrum, not just the shot you hope to hit.
“I think about 50-60 percent of your swings are effectively the same, but there are so many small, random variables – a couple millimeters difference in contact, a couple miles per hour of wind – that impact where your ball ends up.”
If a player averages 30 feet from the hole from 150 yards, then Fawcett wants them to imagine their target as the center of a circle with a 30-foot radius. He uses strokes gained numbers to find the circle that covers an area with the lowest expected scoring average. PGA TOUR players intuitively think this way, but many younger players do not. Using quantitative methods to select targets also allows players to have more confidence in their target selection.
“It allows me to pick more specific targets,” Zalatoris said. “Before, if a pin was tucked over water, I would aim away from it, but now I know how far right I should aim, based on the numbers.
“It allows me to keep giving myself opportunities.”
Will Zalatoris on making his PGA TOUR debut before Northern Trust