BROOKLINE, Massachusetts (AP) – The pat slides an inch – do it a millimeter – beyond the left edge of the cup. Will Zalaris squatted low and let go of the gossip, feeling it slip off the back of his shoulder and onto the grass. He bounced his hands off the green, then placed them on his face.
This is what the agony of a golf course looks like. And even if it seems almost certain that Zalatoris is destined to win one day – probably soon – the US Open Sunday was the most painful of his ever-growing list of close calls.
“I thought I had it,” said Zalatoris, after his pass left a blow less than an inch from the playoffs with champion Matt Fitzpatrick.
We’ve heard that before.
Zalatoris shoots 1-under 69 to lose with a shot. That second place comes just four weeks after Zalatoris finished second in the PGA Championship with a loss to Justin Thomas in the playoffs. And less than 15 months after finishing second at the Masters with a wink at Hideki Matsuyama.
Overall, it was his sixth final in the top 10 since Zalatoris made its US Open debut at Winged Foot two years ago. He is 25, has participated in the PGA Tour in less than two years and is now ranked second in three of the four biggest golf tournaments.
“I’m three shots away from the chance to be a three-time grand champion,” Zalatoris said. “Bounce here or there.”
Oh, those jumps.
He and Fitzpatrick were tied up as they walked toward the 15th Taybox, 500 yards, a par-4 monster driving blindly over a hill. Fitzpatrick drastically blocked his movement to the right. Zalaris also missed his, but not so much.
When they arrived at the balls, Fitzpatrick was sitting in a thin area trampled by the gallery. Zalatoris was curved into 4 inches of tall, lush grass.
Fitzpatrick made a bird out of it; Zalatoris committed fornication. He could not overcome this swing with two shots.
“We go downstairs and he says, ‘I barely miss the fairway and I have a terrible lie and he misses it 30 yards and it’s fine,'” Zalatoris cadet Ryan Goble said. “But Matt played great. And yes, it was a great experience. So you just say, “Yeah, we’ll take it next time.”
Zalatoris did not have its own tour card in 2020, when the pandemic forced USGA to cancel the qualifiers and give exceptions to the best players in the Korn Ferry Tour.
He made the field based on high rank, which was supported by what is still his only professional victory. What stood out in Korn Ferry’s victory in Colorado was that Zalatoris entered the final round with a lead and wrote Goble a check for the winner’s share before hitting that day.
This is called confidence. It has been growing ever since.
“It’s just patience and his mentality, when there’s a bad hole, it’s amazing,” Goble said. “I’ve never been around someone who can just cut it like that and move on to the next hole.”
Zalatoris came to The County Club on Sunday wearing a shirt studded with silhouettes of Francis Wimet and his 10-year-old caddy, Eddie Lowry. It was Wimet’s exciting victory here in 1913 that helped put golf on the map in America.
After 11 holes on Sunday, Zalatoris was in a position to join Ouimet, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and everyone else in the pantheon of US Open champions.
He made 18-foot shots for birds at 9 and 11 to open the lead with two strokes. He struck back on par-4 12th. Then, after stabbing the ball insanely at 13, he responded to a long bird by Fitzpatrick with his own 12-foot save to keep the match level.
All of this seemed to put an end, at least for a day, to the long-running questions about the Zalatoris flat rod. Leaving aside all the great successes, he came to The Country Club as the 160th PGA Tour runner.
The biggest blow of all barely escaped.
Half an hour after that omission, Zalatoris said he had calmed down that he hadn’t missed a single short shot like the ones that had hurt him in his previous moves, such as the 16th hole in the PGA Championship last month.
And he didn’t do a threesome all week.
And he managed to get through 72 holes of the toughest test in golf without a double backgammon.
“This usually leads to a good game at the US Open. So the recipe is there. The game is there, “said Zalatoris. “But like I said, I just have to wait my turn.”