Rising star Will Zalatoris hopeful of a big performance in US PGA

Youngster believes his strong ball-striking will prove valuable on Kiawah Island

Will Zalatoris in action at the AT&T Byron Nelson golf tournament at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas. Photograph: EPA

Will Zalatoris in action at the AT&T Byron Nelson golf tournament at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas. Photograph: EPA

 

It’s been quite the ride for Will Zalatoris. He’s gone from being the guy with the weird name, or alternatively the doppelganger of the caddie from Happy Gilmore (the movie!), to being a walking ATM up to 30th in the world rankings and, remarkably, still without full PGA Tour card-carrying status that will enable him to play at the season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs.

Not yet, anyway. Of course, a win on the PGA Tour would sort out all of those things for the 24-year-old American and, on the evidence of his only two appearances in the Majors – a sixth-placed finish in last year’s US Open (career changing in its own right) and a runner-up finish in last month’s Masters tournament – the odds are that he could very well step up to the plate at this week’s US PGA Championship. Stranger things have happened!

The meteoric rise of Zalatoris – from playing on the secondary Korn Ferry Tour last season – has been taken in his stride, with a maturity that belies his young age.

“Nine months ago, I wasn’t even thinking I was going to be on the PGA Tour, let alone playing in a US Open and leading me to get to this point. I think that’s part of the reason why I’m not looking too far ahead, is just because 10 months ago I thought I was going to have to spend two years on the Korn Ferry Tour . . . it’s been a wild run, a great lesson to realise that, don’t get too far ahead of myself,” he admitted.

Zalatoris’s form since the Masters – where he was runner-up to Hideki Matsuyama – has cooled off. He was tied-42nd at the Heritage in Hilton Head, missed the cut at Wells Fargo and showed signs of getting hot again with a tied-17th finish in the Byron Nelson.

“I had kind of gotten into some bad habits after Augusta and had gotten lazy in my posture and full swing and actually carried into my putting, too. We made some pretty drastic changes [last week], I’ve been prepping for this week for the last couple weeks.”

Making his debut in the US PGA, and playing only the third Major of his short professional career, Zalatoris did find time to make an advance trip to Kiawah Island to work out how to play the course and to prepare for this latest examination.

“It’s a brutal golf course. You’ve got to hit it good. There’s no faking it around this place. Every aspect of your game has to be on,” said Zalatoris, but looking forward to the challenge and believing that his game and his approach will produce a strong performance.

Self-deprecating

As he put it, “I think the reason why I’ve played so well in the Majors is it just feels the same as all the other tournaments. You know, the golf courses are obviously way harder than regular tournaments, and harder golf courses tend to favour me since my ball-striking is the best part of my game. Even though I’m hitting 3- and 4-irons into basically the last five or six holes [on the Ocean Course], that favours me because I hit it far, and that means guys are hitting more club than me.”

And although sporting a new hair cut, Zalatoris’s ability to be self-deprecating hasn’t changed. “It was time for a cut. It was getting a little hot. In Dallas the summertime having that long hair is not really ideal. But I kind of do that every winter. I’ll kind of grow it out a little bit. Don’t worry, it’s not going anywhere, but especially if I have to live up to being Happy Gilmore’s caddie, I think I need to fulfil that role in the off-season a little bit.”

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