Zalatoris’ Will to win

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Will Zalatoris celebrates after making a putt on the 18th green in regulation (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

When Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry won his fourth NBA championship in June – but just his first accompanying NBA Finals MVP award – he called out his critics; “What they gonna say now?”

Curry’s detractors would often try to beat down the NBA’s greatest shooter, highlighting the fact he didn’t have a Finals MVP to his name.

The critics had just lost their stick.

For those tuning into the PGA Tour on Sunday night, you might’ve heard Will Zalatoris hollering the same line after holing a clutch 10-footer on the 72nd hole to keep his hopes of a maiden title alive.

Zalatoris’ putting stroke had become a bit of a joke online. Close up videos came with a viewer discretionary warning. They said the 25-year old signed his name with his stroke, but on Sunday at the FedEx St Jude, standing over multiple pressure putts and with nowhere to hide, Zorro finally got his vengeance.

“I did say that,” Zalatoris smiled in his winning press conference after coming through a dramatic playoff with Sepp Straka courtesy of a seven foot winning bogey putt on the third extra hole.

“I’m a big Warriors fan and obviously Steph, he’s a Cal club guy, he’s a pretty big inspiration obviously.

“I follow the Warriors like crazy and when he said that, it kind of related to my journey so far – being that close and then kind of being written off here and there and then obviously finally pulling it off.

“I actually can’t believe I said that. At least it wasn’t something worse!”

For Zalatoris, it was an outpouring of emotion beyond his control. He opened his press conference with the line, “It’s kind of hard to say ‘about time’ when it’s your second year on Tour, but about time!”

In the former Wake Forest star’s case, the relief made perfect sense. Entering the week in 120th spot in Strokes Gained Putting, last year’s PGA Tour Rookie of the Year had never crossed the finish line first despite repeatedly coming close.

Up to now it’s been a case of the bigger the event, the better for Zalatoris. He tied-sixth at the U.S. Open in 2020 without a PGA Tour card. He finished second at the Masters in 2021, second at the U.S. PGA Championship this year before again being beaten into second spot, this time by Matt Fitzpatrick at the U.S. Open.

At each event, Zalatoris’ putting came under the microscope. Disaster seemed to lurk around anything from two feet. Yet, while the watching world peeked through their fingers and accumulated scar tissue by association along the way, Zalatoris continued to relish the fight, refusing to back down from the spotlight, fully convinced his day would come.

“I think anytime you put yourself in contention you’re going to learn something about yourself,” he said.

“The first second at the Masters was life-changing because it put me in position to play out here as much as I wanted to and put me kind of on the map.

“The second at the PGA was kind of affirmation that it wasn’t a fluke of a week, and the third one at the U.S. Open gave me much more belief that I can win a major, I can win out here.

“It was just a matter of time and obviously this was my week.”

This week also happened to be a big one for the PGA Tour. Not quite Rory McIlroy riding in on a white horse at the Canadian Open but it’s another event significantly enhanced by a star-quality winner, and a topsy-turvy playoff duel enriched by Zalatoris’ story arch that so many had already emotionally invested in.

“This is why we practice, this tournament’s been here for 60 years,” Zalatoris said.

“You know, every week that we’re out here there’s some story of history. I’ve wanted to chase history my entire career and obviously that’s why I was so vocal about the majors. So obviously it’s great to finally get the first one out of the way, but yeah, sorry, it’s still just sinking in.”

Now that Zalatoris has proven to himself that his stroke holds up under pressure, there’s no telling how many wins he might accumulate. Whatever happens though, the PGA Tour has itself another exciting star. One seemingly with his priorities in order, and crucially, a guy who’s easy to root for.

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