Putting practice pays off for Will Zalatoris at US PGA

American can struggle from short range but used putter like magic wand in opening 66

Will Zalatoris may put the heart crossways in anyone watching his putting from inside eight feet, yet there were times the American – who runs the putter aside his left arm while using a claw grip with his right hand – used it like a magic wand from long distance in an opening round of the US PGA at Southern Hills that enabled him to sign for an opening round 66.

“It’s super fun when you have days like that. I think I either made four or five 25-footers. It was a bizarre day. I didn’t drive it great, but I think all six of my birdies came from the rough, which is just very bizarre,” said Zalatoris who was bemused as anyone that it all came so good for him following the frustration of a missed cut in last week’s Byron Nelson tournament.

Zalatoris’s reaction to that missed cut was, as he put it in Ben Hogan-like terminology, “to dig it out of the ground” in hitting the practice range over the weekend before making the trip to Tulsa. “The beauty of it is it’s just never as far off as you feel,” he claimed.

And much of the work he put in was on his putting. As Zalatoris said of overcoming some “bad habits” that had crept into his game, “I tend to tilt too far kind of towards my back foot and start seeing my lines right, which is just for some reason I’ve just always done that. I do it in my full swing, I do it in my short game, I do it in my putting. Sometimes it’s kind of looking at video is actually a little bit better than just digging it out of the dirt and banging your head against the wall.

“I grinded pretty hard the last three, four days, but I think it was more the talks than anything that I would probably attribute to a day like today.”

Although he has yet to win on the PGA Tour, Zalatoris – ranked 30th in the latest world rankings – has been especially impressive when stepping onto the big stage in the Majors. This is his eighth career appearance in a Major and, of his seven previous times, he has managed no fewer than four top-10s, with a best finish of second in the 2021 Masters. He has also had two missed cuts, and was forced to withdraw after the first round of last year’s British Open due to a back injury.

Clearly, though, he has found a way to bring the right kind of game and focus to them and a way to contend, attributing his ball-striking – the strongest part of his game – as being the reason.

“[Majors] they’re just hard. You’ve got to ball strike your way around them no matter which Major it is... I thought being the ball striker I am, obviously it’s shown in the first six or so Majors of my career, but on top of that, I think it’s the attitude of this is what I’ve wanted to achieve basically since I was a little kid, and it’s kind of freeing in a way.

“Obviously it’s Thursday. My mind is nowhere near going to be meandering towards that, but that’s kind of my general attitude is you get four of these a year, they’re special, and I don’t want to leave anything to chance.”