BROOKLINE, Mass. – Will Zalatoris failed again, and this time he thought he had it.
After missing a 14-foot birdie on the 18th hole that would have put him in the playoffs with winner Matt Fitzpatrick, Zalatoris couldn’t help but sigh as he collected the silver medal for second to the US Open Sunday. He spoke to the media as screens showed Fitzpatrick hoisting the trophy, then Zalatoris walked away with a forced smile. He had to leave the stage to let the champion pass.
“This one, in particular, hurts a lot,” said Zalatoris, who now has six top-10 finishes in nine major starts, including three second-place finishes. “I’m three shots away from being practically a – from having a shot at being a three-time major champion. A rebound here or there.”
The 25-year-old entered Sunday’s action without a major victory or a PGA Tour win, but with plenty of confidence. He said on Saturday that his recent playoff runner-up to Justin Thomas at this year’s PGA Championship gave him the belief he could be one of the best players in the world. But Belief couldn’t push his putt any inches closer to the hole.
“With about six feet to go, I thought I had it,” Zalatoris said of his putt. “It stings, obviously. To have three finalists so far in my major league career.”
Zalatoris arrived on Sunday tied for the lead with Fitzpatrick. Zalatoris struggled early, making two bogeys on the first five holes before his ever-elusive putter caught fire. He birdied on four of the next six holes and at one point held a 2-stroke lead over Fitzpatrick.
“I fought like crazy,” Zalatoris said, calling his driving “atrocious” this week and adding that his hip was bothering him. The 2021 Masters finalist’s usual issues came with his putter, but as he said with a smile on Sunday, his putt was fine.
“I’m sure all the morons on Instagram are going to say it has something to do with my left wrist bending going down,” Zalatoris said of the 18 putt. has nothing to do.”
Zalatoris’ two costly mistakes came on the back nine. On the 12th hole he missed the fairway and had to hit, which led to a 2-putt for bogey. On the 15th, he missed the fairway again. Fitzpatrick did it too, but he missed it so far that he had a better lie than Zalatoris, who was on the hard side. Fitzpatrick birdied. Zalatoris bogey. The lead was then 2 in favor of Fitzpatrick.
On the par-3 16, Zalatoris birdied to sit 1 back. But when Fitzpatrick saved his errant drive that found the bunker with a perfect iron shot into the 18th green, the pressure was back on Zalatoris, who then called Fitzpatrick’s approach shot ‘1 out of 20’.
“I knew very well that Will was going to hit close range,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’s one of the best approach players on tour.”
Zalatoris hit him just under 15 feet. Fitzpatrick 2 putt for par, so Zalatoris knew what he had to do. As he hit the ball and watched it fly past the hole without falling, it was Zalatoris who fell to his knees in agony. The champion was decided.
“I’ve been asked before, how nervous were you on the 18th putt?” said Zalatoris. “It’s like I have nothing to lose. Either it fits or it doesn’t.”
Even after a tough loss, Zalatoris showed confidence, saying he had the recipe to win. With less than a month until the next major – the St. Andrews Open – Zalatoris said he was happy to try again soon.
“I’m not happy to have finished second,” he said. “I’m obviously trying to make it happen. The comfort level is there, especially now that I know I can do it. I just have to wait my turn.”