Red-hot Will Zalatoris eyes PGA Tour status at Sanderson Farms Championship

JACKSON, Miss. – Norman Vincent Peale would have been a big fan of Will Zalatoris.

Peale, the author of The Power of Positive Thinking, would have admired how Zalatoris isn’t afraid to shoot for his goal. Like the time before the final round of the Korn Ferry Tour’s TPC Colorado Championship at Heron Lakes in July, when despite being winless since turning professional in 2017, Zalatoris wrote his caddie a check based on the winner’s share and went out and made it happen.

Then, last week, Zalatoris, who made the cut on the number at the PGA Tour’s Corales Puntacana Open, knew he needed a low round to vault into the top 10 and secure a start in this week’s Sanderson Farms Championship. Zalatoris set a goal of 64, and while he came up one short of the number, he posted a field-low 65 that catapulted him to T-8 and another week of living the good life on the PGA Tour.

When asked to explain what the difference was in his play in Sunday’s final round in the Dominican Republic compared to the first three days, he said, “I had my back up against the wall.”

Zalatoris, 24, continued a remarkable run of performance, which included a T-6 at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot two weeks ago when he earned more in one start than he had in 16 on the Korn Ferry Tour. His two-week run in the big leagues has lifted Zalatoris to the brink of earning special temporary membership on the PGA Tour, which would allow him unlimited sponsor’s exemptions this season (otherwise capped at seven).

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Zalatoris needs just a two-way tie for fifth place this week at the Sanderson Farms Championship to earn enough to do so.

There will be no rest for the weary, especially when opportunity knocks.

“At this stage of where I’m at, I can’t take a week off,” Zalatoris said on Sunday, noting he was “flat” the first two days at Puntacana. “At least I can admit it now, I was a little drained after (the U.S. Open).”

Will Zalatoris reacts to his made par putt on the 15th hole during singles at the 2017 Walker Cup at The Los Angeles Country Club in Los Angeles, California, on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. (Copyright USGA/JD Cuban)

Zalatoris looks to be a star in the making. He’s shown promise since his red-hot summer of 2014 when he won the U.S. Junior Amateur, Texas State Amateur and Trans-Mississippi Amateur Championship. After winning four times in college, playing on the victorious 2017 U.S. Walker Cup team and earning 2017 ACC Player of the Year honors, Zalatoris skipped his final semester at Wake Forest and turned pro in December of that year.

Zalatoris is a ballstriking specialist – he led the U.S. Open field in Strokes Gained: Approach – but willed himself to another Tour start this week by making a boatload of putts on Sunday. He took 30 putts in the first three rounds at Puntacana, but only 25 on the final day.

He’s made the step up in competition to the PGA Tour seamlessly after an impressive season on the developmental circuit. Zalatoris won the TPC Colorado Championship, finished tied for second at the Evans Scholars Invitational and shared third at the King & Bear Classic at World Golf Village among 10 top-10s in 16 starts. And he’s been killing it on the Korn Ferry Tour since returning from the COVID-19 break in June, recording 11 straight top-20 finishes en route to the top of the circuit’s money list.

The global pandemic eliminated a promotion to the PGA Tour this season – unless, of course, he wins three times on KFT for an automatic promotion, or two more times – but a victory this week at The Country Club of Jackson would resolve those concerns. Perhaps he should simply write his caddie another first-place check and allow the power of positive thinking to take care of the rest.

“I’ve been really working hard over the past couple of years, and nice to finally see it pay off on the big stage,” Zalatoris said.

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