BROOKLINE, Massachusetts. – As his shot approached the hole at 18 on Sunday night, Will Zalatoris thought he was in for an exciting playoff to decide the US Open champion. All the ball had to do was drop, and Zalatoris and Matt Fitzpatrick would settle things in a two-hole playoff.
“There were about six feet left, and I thought I did it,” Zalatoris said. Earlier, he checked his phone and saw what Paul Azinger, an NBC golf analyst and former PGA Tour pro, was talking about. “That everyone missed that high kick,” Zalatoris added.
He continued, “I was the closest all day. I’m like, “Thanks for the consolation prize.”
Zalatoris is painfully acquainted with the consolation prizes. Last month he lost the PGA Championship Justin Thomas in the playoffs at the Southern Hills in Tulsa. Have placed second behind Hideki Matsuyama at the Masters 2021, just seven months before the Korn Ferry Tour. And now, another second place by another major.
“Obviously, it’s frustrating for me that I already have three winners in major tournaments in my career,” he said. “Obviously we are doing the right thing. I would pay a lot of money for an inch and a half and probably be a three time world champion at that stage. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”
Zalatoris may refer to the great Ben Hogan for a historical comparison. Hogan was repeatedly called a bridesmaid due to his inability to win a major in the early and mid-1940s. He lost in the playoffs to Byron Nelson at the 1942 Masters, leading by three shots. He lost a playoff chance at the 1946 Masters when he hit three 12-foot shots, missing a 30-inch shot.
“It just wasn’t the time to win,” Hogan told The New York Times. “However, there is still another year ahead.” Two months later, at the US Open outside of Cleveland, he again putted three putts at the 72nd hole, missing another short putt and crashing out of a playoff won by Lloyd Mangrum. But later that year, he won the PGA Championship, the first of his nine majors.
The difference is that, unlike Hogan, who has established himself as one of the best players in the game with consecutive tournament wins, Zalatoris is still looking for his first PGA Tour win. Everyone agrees that Zalatoris’ punch, especially the short punch, is his Achilles’ heel. Although he was a relatively good hitter at the Country Club—until he conceded a birdie on the last hole in the final round—he entered the tournament finishing 160th on the putting tour.
Asked what he thought when he saw Zalatoris hit, Collin Morikawa said, “I pray for him. I mean, look, I’m not going to beat around the bush. I’ve been saying this since college, anything outside of that 8 to 10 foot zone, I mean, it’s as smooth as any other punch.”
What about 10 feet inside?
“We saw some squirrel strikes,” Morikawa said. “It’s not like I’m the best stickman and I had that little whiteness too, but I think we all sort of go into a stupor when we see it.”
Zalatoris had no trouble winning before he arrived on the PGA Tour. He won 2014 USA Junior Amateur championship. At Wake Forest, he was the ACC All-American Player of the Year. He won the Trans-Mississippi Amateur Championship twice. He was on the winning 2017 Walker Cup team that also featured Scotty Scheffler, who tied for second place with Zalatoris on Sunday, and Morikawawhich finished in fifth place.
In addition to three career second-place finishes in major tournaments, Zalatoris finished second to Luke List in the playoffs at the Farmers Insurance Open this year. He placed sixth at the Masters, fourth at the Zurich Classic and fifth at the Memorial Tournament.
Sunday’s result at the Country Club is the result of Zalatoris. seventh place in the top 10 in 12 tournaments this year. He has finished in the top 10 in six of the eight major tournaments he has played. This is an impressive record – minus one gaping hole or even three.
“It’s just little things,” said Zalatoris, who turns 26 in August. “It’s not the same in every single case. We’re talking inches. It’s not like I’ve been runner-up a few times with a score of four or five. It was the same for all three. So I just have to keep doing what I’m doing. I have to keep knocking on the door because, as I said before, the comfort level has been reached.”
After Zalatoris analyzed his round and his incessant struggle to finally crack the winner’s circle, he received a parting gift from the US Golf Association: a silver medal for second place.