‘He might be the best ball-striker out there’
Zalatoris making the most of his PGA TOUR call-up
September 22, 2020
By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
Will Zalatoris on how the layoff helped his golf game before Corales Puntacana
Will Zalatoris is in the midst of a record-setting season on the Korn Ferry Tour. He proved last week that his game is ready for the biggest stages, as well.
Now he has another start on the PGA TOUR, and a chance to inch closer to an early call-up.
Zalatoris got into last week's U.S. Open by virtue of being the top man on the Korn Ferry Tour's Points List. He finished T6 at Winged Foot. His impressive finish earned him a start at this week’s Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.
“I know I've had some success on every level so far in my career, but obviously having that high of a finish and competing against the best in the world and finally doing it, it's one thing to tell yourself that you can do it, it's another actually doing it," he said.
There will be no Korn Ferry Tour graduates in 2020 after the coronavirus pandemic paused professional golf for several months, but Zalatoris could still play his way onto the PGA TOUR sooner than later.
He could win three times on the Korn Ferry Tour (he has one victory so far), win a PGA TOUR event, or earn special temporary membership, which would allow him unlimited sponsor exemptions for the remainder of the season.
Zalatoris had a sponsor exemption into this week’s TOUR event, but didn’t need it after finishing in the top 10 at Winged Foot. He made a hole-in-one in the first round, led the field in Strokes Gained: Approach and finished with rounds of 70-74-70-71 to tie FedExCup champion Dustin Johnson for sixth place in the first of six majors this season.
By earning his way into Puntacana, Zalatoris was able to save one of the seven sponsor exemptions that non-members are allowed to accept. He said Wednesday he also has accepted a sponsor exemption into the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas on Oct. 8-11.
The next step is to earn special temporary membership, which goes to a player who earns an amount of non-member FedExCup points that equals or surpasses No. 150 on the previous season’s FedExCup points list. Because the 2019-20 season was shortened by the pandemic, the benchmark is No. 150 on the 2019 list; that was Martin Kaymer, who earned 288 points. Zalatoris earned 105 for his U.S. Open finish.
Zalatoris said the key for him this week would be to maintain his energy. He admitted that while the U.S. Open was fun, it was also draining.
Still, as Zalatoris gets ready for a PGA TOUR start this week he’s mostly looking to build off his play on the Korn Ferry Tour, which this season has been, in a word, impressive.
He has finished in the top 20 in his last 11 starts, the longest streak in that circuit’s history. He’s hitting 81% of greens this season, which is on pace to be the most in KFT history, as well.
“Really I draw a lot of confidence out of what I've done this year mainly just because, like I said, I've done it different ways,” said Zalatoris.
Zalatoris is first in Scoring Average and Ball Striking and he credits a lot of his recent success to his work with Josh Gregory, a performance golf coach based out of Maridoe along with Troy Denton, who is the head golf professional at the club.
“He might be the best ball striker out there,” said Gregory.
Denton calls Zalatoris a “freak ball-striker.”
Gregory works with 11 golfers across the Korn Ferry Tour and PGA TOUR, and has been with Zalatoris for the last 18 months. He said Zalatoris was the “perfect candidate” for his way of teaching – mostly wrapped in games and drills and repetition.
“That’s perfect for his nature. He’s extremely structured in everything he does. That’s where the immediate connection was. Most importantly… he always worked hard. He just needed a bit more consistency for how to go about things each day,” said Gregory.
“Candidly of all my TOUR guys, there is nobody that’s stuck to the plan better than he has.”
Past FedExCup champion Jordan Spieth has seen Zalatoris’ fine ball-striking up close since they were youngsters. They play frequently together at Dallas’ Maridoe Golf Club in matches with fellow TOUR stars Ryan Palmer and Scottie Scheffler and grew up playing junior golf in Texas.
“He’s always been a good player, and a really good ball-striker,” said Spieth. “We’ve been playing quite a bit over the last couple of years and the progression of his game… he’ll just be able to contend everywhere.”
Spieth said Zalatoris struggled during a growth spurt while in high school that saw him go from 5-foot-4, 140 pounds to 6-foot-1, 145 pounds in less than a year and a half. His golf as junior was solid to that point, but he said he felt his body was “growing at all different speeds”
Zalatoris received the Arnold Palmer Scholarship from longtime Wake Forest Men’s Head Golf Coach Jerry Haas despite his growth spurt struggles, and that was key for Zalatoris’ psyche. He knew someone believed in him.
Even then, Spieth said, Zalatoris had a good kind of swagger to his game.
“He’s always been a pretty cocky player and I mean that in the best way possible,” said Spieth. “You have to have that on the golf course.”
Spieth believes it won’t take too long for Zalatoris to have an impact on the TOUR. He’s already played well on one of the bigger stages in the sport at the U.S. Open. It wouldn’t be surprised if Zalatoris won a PGA TOUR event quickly.
“I don’t think it would surprise me at all,” said Spieth. “You wonder how long it will take (Korn Ferry Tour golfers) to have success and then, boom, they win that week."