AUGUSTA, Ga. — Will Zalatoris had never walked on a golf course to a standing ovation before, and really, the 24-year-old American had rarely even run into fans who knew his name.
But after a breakout performance at the Masters, when his Sunday 70 put him at 9-under for the tournament and just one shot behind winner Hideki Matsuyama, Zalatoris is a stranger to the golf world no more. The patrons along Augusta’s 18th fairway made sure he knew it, their small but mighty number bathing him in applause.
“I just took as many mental images in my mind, because I’ve watched this tournament for as long as I can remember, and the fact that I was a part of it is pretty special, and the fact that I contended is even cooler,” Zalatoris said.
In only his second major as a pro, Zalatoris made it obvious he belongs in golf’s upper echelon, even if he had to take an unconventional path to get there. While toiling on the Korn Ferry Tour last year, he made the US Open field because of a quirk of the pandemic, when qualifying standards had to be altered to allow for lack of play. With a surprising top-10 finish at the Open, Zalatoris moved himself into the top 50 world golf rankings, and thus earned himself an invite to the Masters.
He wasn’t about to waste his chance.
“It was a pretty rough first year as a pro,” he said. “And like I’ve mentioned, I guess it was a little under two years ago I was sitting down with my coaches and my agent and talking about playing mini-tour events, and not even two years later frustrated that I was one shot short of winning the Masters. It’s a pretty cool feeling.”
That frustration spoke to the expectations Zalatoris has for himself, ones that might have been seen as out of reach to those outside his circle, but ones that four magnificent days of golf endorsed as just high enough.
“I’ve wanted to be in this position my entire life. I don’t need to shy away from it now,” he said. “I’ve made it this far. Why now be timid? I thought, like I said, I did a really good job of enjoying the moment but not letting it get to me, too.”
His future is bright.
“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,” he said. “And obviously my two majors as a pro, I finished sixth and runner-up. I know if I keep doing what I’m doing, I’m going to have a really good chance in the future.”
Champ reflects on memorable week
Cameron Champ made quite a mark at this year’s Masters, pushing himself onto the leaderboard across Friday and Saturday, but even moreso, by speaking out as one of the few Black golfers on the PGA Tour.
Though this was his second Masters, it was the first one his family could attend, since the one in November had very limited patrons. But sadly, his grandfather Mack, the man who introduced him to the game and was perhaps his biggest fan, died late last year after a battle with stomach cancer.
Champ considered what this appearance would have meant to the man he called Pops, happening as it did when Lee Elder, the first Black man to compete at the Masters and one of Pops’s inspirations, was part of the ceremonial first tee.
“Oh, he would have been thrilled,” Champ said. “This was one of his dreams to be here and to walk. Obviously if he was still alive he probably would have had to have a little cart to get around. But yeah, he’d be ecstatic. Like I said, this is the one place he wanted to go, and obviously it was just my rookie year, so I was trying to get there as fast as I could, but obviously I was a little bit late.
“But I know he’s looking down on us.”
Champ’s Sunday round of par put him at 1-over for the tournament.
“I’m going to take a lot of positives from [the week],” he said. “My game is trending in the right direction. It’s just nice, starting to see it slowly. Did I make a lot of mistakes? Yes, but again, this course will do that to you, and like you said, with Lee Elder and my family being here, it definitely made for me kind of feeling like it’s my first Masters a little more special.”
Age doesn’t matter
Two-time Masters champ Jose Maria Olazabal (1994, 1999) is 55 years old and well into his second career chapter on the Champions Tour, but he struck a blow for the old guys, making the cut for the first time since 2014. While enjoying every moment of his weekend (shooting 75-75 on Saturday and Sunday), Olazabal had a nice response to how much a major win changes a golfer’s life.
“Well, I don’t know if it will change your life, but it will change your career,” he said. “I mean, I think we have to differentiate those two areas. I think life, it depends on the player. I think the player can stay the same way he was before after winning the Masters, but no question that your career is determined by the number of majors that you win, and in that case scenario, whenever you win your major event, it’s a great relief, and it puts you in a different level.”
New dad makes late charge
Jon Rahm’s week started out crazy, with him arriving at Augusta just in time to play after he and his wife welcomed their first child into the world. But after three straight par rounds, he lit up the Sunday scoreboard with the day’s best round, 66. It left him wondering how the tournament might have gone had he had more time to prepare, although he said every time he received a new picture of his son, it didn’t much matter.
“It’s almost like a shoulda-coulda-woulda, right?” Rahn said. “I mean, each day I’ve played better golf. First three days I just couldn’t get anything going. Today was the complete opposite. Started the way I started, and that set the tone for the rest of the round . . . To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to play as good as I did early on.
“Of course I’m happy. It’s still a top five at a major with a great round on a Sunday. If anything, what is it, 15 straight rounds of even par or better here? Clearly I like the place. I play good here. My year is coming up. Let’s hope it’s soon.”
Lowry on his own now
Irishman Shane Lowry, the (still) reigning British Open champion since his win in 2019, said his plans going forward are still unsettled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lowry said his caddie went back to Ireland to complete his vaccination but won’t be able to return because of the country’s new quarantine rules for travelers from the US.
“I know things are tough for everybody at the minute, but my coach and my team are going home tomorrow, and I probably won’t see them until the Open,” he said. “It’s not great, you know, because I want them over here for the big tournaments, the PGA and the US Open. We’ll see what happens. I don’t know. Maybe there will be exemptions or something. I have no idea.”
Lowry’s Sunday 72 put him at even par for the tournament, but he remains hopeful of adding a green jacket to his Claret Jug.
“I bogeyed 11 on Friday, I was 3-over for the tournament, and I sort of resigned myself to the fact I was never going to win a green jacket,” he admitted. “Then I played lovely the last few holes and then played nicely yesterday, and you kind of — you start to build your hopes up again. So who knows?
“Look, I truly — I hope I get the chance someday. I just hope I get the chance. I just really want the chance to do it around Amen Corner someday. Like I’d love to be in those last few groups out there. It’s not great when you’re out there playing for 10th or 15th or whatever. It’s much nicer when you’re in contention.”
Something is afoot
Welcome to the new Masters tradition: Billy Horschel playing barefoot on the 13th hole.
Horschel created a stir Saturday by slipping barefoot down a slope before playing a ball from the water on the par-5 13th hole. The shoes came off again on the 13th on Sunday, though the only thing that slipped this time was Horschel down the leaderboard.
His tee shot landed in the water, so just like Saturday, he removed his shoes and socks and rolled up his pant legs over his calves to go try to play the ball. He only advanced it a few yards, not getting it back to the fairway, then tried to hack at it again from a combination of grass, mud and rocks — before taking an unplayable lie and moving on.
The final damage: A triple-bogey 8, dropping him from 41st to 50th on the leaderboard and to 6 over for the tournament.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.