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Posted April 6, 2021, 7:41 pm
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Will Zalatoris, who works with a former Augusta State coach, ready for his first Masters

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    Will Zalatoris chips to the No. 3 green during Tuesday's practice round. [ANDREW DAVIS TUCKER/THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE]

Josh Gregory remembers when Will Zalatoris lost to Jason Kokrak, who birdied three of the last four holes to beat Zalatoris in the World Golf Championships Dell Technologies Match Play a few weeks back.

Zalatoris didn’t sulk in defeat. Instead, he went from the 18th green to the practice green and worked on a drill he and Gregory, his short game coach, have always worked on.  

“That’s the kind of discipline and structure that is required to be successful out here,” Gregory said. “That, regardless of if you shoot 65 or 75, you’re doing the same things day in and day out.” 

It’s the type of player Zalatoris is and what he’s continued to do through the practice rounds at Augusta National Golf Club ahead of his first Masters appearance. He is grouped with two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer and amateur Joe Long for an 8:48 a.m. tee time Thursday.  

Gregory, who coached Patrick Reed and the 2011 and 2012 Augusta State national championship golf teams, has known Zalatoris since he was a junior golfer. Gregory said the two joined forces during a difficult time in Zalatoris’ young career about 2 1/2 years ago.  

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“He had a little slump in his junior career, a little slump kind of right after he gets out of college because you’re trying to figure out where you’re going to play,” Gregory said. “He needed guidance, he needed structure.” 

Gregory joined with Zalatoris’ agent and his full-swing coach, Troy Denton, to provide that for Zalatoris. No sooner did things start to turn for Zalatoris, the pandemic hit.  

A year ago, Zalatoris didn’t have status on the Korn Ferry Tour. When the tour resumed, he had to play Monday qualifiers to get into tournaments -- but strung together 11 consecutive top-20 finishes on the tour from June to September, including a win in Colorado in July.

He then finished sixth at the U.S. Open in September and in November accepted a special temporary exemption to play on the PGA Tour for the remainder of the 2020-21 season.  

“I think it’s just over the last year and a half, I’m here after not having status on the Korn Ferry Tour and then working on last year to get my card and then COVID hit so I had four months off and I still found a way to make my way to the PGA Tour and be here so it’s really cool.” 

There was no secret method or special drills; Zalatoris just stuck to his traditional practice routine.  

“I hate saying the same monotonous answer of just sticking to the process, but we’ve had the same practice routine for two years and we haven’t deviated from it and there’s obviously no reason to,” Zalatoris said. “So when I say stick to the process, it’s obviously been magical.” 

It’s the same process that will help him in his first Masters as well.

Gregory said Zalatoris doesn’t get intimidated by the tournament or the spotlight. During the 2020-21 season, he's amassed five top-10 finishes in 14 starts, including his first top-five finish at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.  

Gregory said Zalatoris’ discipline reminds him of Reed and Bryson DeChambeau.  

“All three of those guys have that in common and I see, obviously he’s not as far in his career as Patrick and Bryson, but I can see over the next two or three years, him becoming that style of player because of those attributes that he has and a lot of those you can’t teach,” Gregory added. 

During Monday’s practice round, Zalatoris said he was just taking in being at Augusta National. He was able to experience having patrons return to the property, he was able to see how the course played and even got to skip balls across the pond at No. 16.  

Gregory said this week is all about having fun. He said if they have to come to Augusta and do a lot of work, they aren’t prepared. While they are working in the practice area all week and learning the course as much as possible, Zalatoris is still enjoying being on golf’s biggest stage.  

“I wasn’t here in November, but I know a lot of the guys said it was just an out-of-body experience being here. So obviously the patrons are what makes this tournament fun,” Zalatoris said.  

“You got the patrons who are yelling at you to ‘skip it on 16, skip it on 16.’ So, it’s a lot of fun. A lot of pinch-me moments.” 

He joked that he’ll use the next couple of days to work on successfully skipping it across the pond at No. 16.  

“Thankfully it’s Monday. I think rinsing two on 16 trying to skip it, I think I need to fix it over the next couple of days,” he added, laughing.