'Absolute dream': Will Zalatoris' first Masters exceeds expectations
As Will Zalatoris sat in his press conference following the 85th Masters Tournament, he learned a very important thing about himself during his first Masters effort at Augusta National Golf Club.
“I think the fact that I'm frustrated I finished second in my third major says something, and the fact that I didn't let any moment really get to me, was really exciting," Zalatoris said. "And obviously my two majors as a pro, I finished sixth and runner-up. I know if I keep doing what I doing, I'm going to have a really good chance in the future."
But that’s always been Zalatoris, the hardworking, overachieving and disciplined golfer that earned his way from Monday qualifiers on the Korn Ferry Tour to a special temporary exemption on the PGA Tour to runner-up at The Masters.
All in a 17-month span.
“He’s prepared his whole life for this moment. And he’s ready for this moment. … This will be the first of many times he’ll be here. He hasn’t been overwhelmed by the moment all week so this doesn’t surprise me,” said Josh Gregory, Zalatoris’ short game coach and former Augusta State golf coach.
As frustrated as Zalatoris was of falling just one stroke short of tying this year’s champion, Hideki Matsuyama, he also appreciated what he had accomplished.
“Absolute dream. To be in this situation, I’ve been dreaming about it for 20 years,” Zalatoris said. “... It was a lot of fun, obviously, hearing a lot of the patrons over the last -- especially the last couple days, saying my name, you know, cheering me on on every single hole between every single shot. It was really special.”
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By Sunday, Zalatoris had a traditional Masters throng of patrons – even with the limited capacity – following his path through his final 18 holes as a Masters rookie. Gregory couldn’t help but throw a waist-level fist pump after Zalatoris’ final birdie of the day on No. 17.
Patrons barked his name as he walked up each fairway, they cheered his birdies on No. 15 and 17, they gave him a standing ovation as he approached the green at No. 18. He even had fans on Twitter.
Zalatoris said he took in his entire experience, from his three birdies in the first nine, to the final time he stood on the bridge at the 12th hole to take in Amen Corner one more time.
Gregory said Zalatoris was working for this moment up until, very literally, the last possible second. After he signed for his 2-under 70 and became the leader in the clubhouse, with Matsuyama two holes back, Zalatoris went straight to the practice area, in the event of a playoff.
That’s the same determination Gregory preached when he spoke highly of Zalatoris’ willingness to work during the practice rounds. He compared Zalatoris’ work ethic to that of Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, two other understudies of Gregory.
"As he told me on Thursday after the first round, ‘I can win this thing.’ He’s not intimidated by it and he’ll be excited no matter where he finishes and also a little disappointed if he doesn’t win," Gregory said.
In Gregory’s eyes, he always saw Zalatoris getting to this point. The wins will come. His ascent to becoming one of the world’s best golfers isn’t far behind.
“He’ll be one of the best players in the world. He'll be a Ryder Cup (player), he’ll be a major championship winner,” Gregory said.