DALLAS—For the moment at least, Will Zalatoris has bragging rights over his hometown contemporaries Jordan Spieth and Scottie Scheffler. All three played junior golf together on the Legends Junior Tour, each pushing the others to work harder, practice longer and, ultimately, win more tournaments.
Zalatoris, a 17-year-old from Plano, on Sunday accomplished something that neither Spieth, a two-time U.S. Junior Champion and PGA Tour winner, nor Scheffler, the reigning U.S. Junior Am champ, have done in their careers. With a bogey-free final nine holes and a closing 3-under-par 68, Zalatoris held off a hard-charging Stratton Nolen to win the 105th playing of the Texas Amateur Championship presented by Insperity.
An incoming freshman at Wake Forest and winner of the prestigious Arnold Palmer Scholarship, Zalatoris finished at 10-under 274, good for a three-shot victory over Austin’s Nolen, who posted 7-under 277. Zalatoris said the win was a huge boost for his confidence and has no qualms with being grouped together with the likes of Spieth and Scheffler.
"That’s really good company. I hope I do belong in that group,” Zalatoris said. "I’ve played junior golf with Scottie for years and it’s always been fun. Jordan right now is the inspiration for all junior golfers. I owe a lot of my success to him. Six or seven years ago when Brookhaven’s driving range was being re-done, he came out to Bent Tree, my home club, that whole summer. He showed me that getting out there at 7:30 in the morning and staying till 8 at night is what it takes.”
Zalatoris had what it took on Sunday. He began the final round with a three-shot lead over Nolen, the redshirt freshman at Oklahoma State and winner of the TGA State Public Links Championship earlier in June. Zalatoris pushed the lead to four shots early, but Nolen showed his determination with birdies the sixth, seventh and ninth holes. When Nolen drained an 8-foot eagle on the par-5 10th, he suddenly was tied for the lead with Zalatoris.
"Stratton is a great player, and he really pushed me today,” said Zalatoris, the second Demon Deacon to win the Texas Amateur in three years. Recent Wake Forest grad Thomas Birdsey won the 2012 title; he finished fifth this year at even-par 284.
Zalatoris remained steady during Nolen’s surge. When Nolen bogeyed the par-4 15th and Zalatoris drained a 15-foot birdie, Zalatoris’ lead once again was three shots. It gave him the breathing room he need to close out the championship.
"I was outplayed today,” Nolen said. "I was in position to run away with this thing, but I played sloppy golf over the weekend. I’m really happy with my game and there are a lot of positives to take away.”
Zalatoris said to win the state’s biggest amateur tournament on Father’s Day – with his dad Rick among the attentive 100-plus gallery members – meant everything to him. Both father and son shared a tearful embrace seconds after the final putt dropped.
"It’s so awesome,” he said. "He’s taught me so much. Not just about golf, but about being a man.”
Rick Zalatoris took a moment to gaze at the electronic scoreboard next to the 18th green with his son’s picture and the words "2014 Texas Amateur Champion” beneath it.
"Every day is Father’s Day with this kid,” Rick Zalatoris said. "But yes, this one is really special.”
To say Zalatoris was born to play golf might be an understatement. An only child, both parents play the game and did so before their son arrived. In mother Cathie’s case, right before that.
"I was playing right up until three weeks before Will was born,” she said.
Zalatoris received his first plastic club when he was 18 months old. At three months, Cathie and Rick played three- and four-hole rounds of golf while taking turns holding their infant son. They lived in San Francisco at the time and belonged the California Golf Club, one of several of which World Golf Hall of Famer Ken Venturi belonged.
Zalatoris begged to play golf before he could walk and was hitting balls by age 3. One day Venturi, the 1964 U.S. Open champion, approached Zalatoris.
"I was a little range rat and he came up and fixed my grip,” said Zalatoris, who moved with his family to Dallas in 2004. "He said, ‘Don’t ever change this grip,’ and I never have. I knew he was golf royalty at the time, but I didn’t really know just how famous he was. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
He’ll also always remember the 2014 Texas Amateur. He said winning it at Brook Hollow was extra special, and he looks forward to defending his title in 2015 at his home club Bent Tree.
"It means a lot to win on this course,” Zalatoris said. "Brook Hollow is known as one of the best courses in Dallas, hand down. A.W. Tillinghast is one of the greatest designers of all time, and I couldn’t be happier to have won here.”
Tucked in the shadows of downtown Dallas, venerable Brook Hollow Golf Club was designed in 1920 by A.W. Tillinghast, one of the giants from America’s "Golden Age” of golf course architecture. Tillinghast’s distinguished portfolio includes some of the most celebrated U.S. courses, including Winged Foot, Baltusrol, Bethpage Black and San Francisco GC.
Playing host to its record ninth Texas Amateur, Brook Hollow’s classic, tree-lined course measured 6,752 yards as a par 71 for the 72-hole championship. The club has a long history of supporting amateur golf, having played host to eight previous Texas Amateurs, a U.S. Mid-Amateur, TGA Senior and Mid-Amateur State Championships, USGA Sectional Qualifying, two Texas Cup matches and seven Trans-Mississippi Championships.
It’s appropriate that more Texas Amateurs have been decided at Brook Hollow than anywhere else. One of the club’s founding members, H.L. "Harry Lee” Edwards, also was instrumental in establishing the TGA in 1906. In turn, the trophy for the state’s most prestigious championship is named after H.L. Edwards.
"He served as the first TGA president and won the inaugural Texas Amateur,” said Simon Buckle, the head professional at Brook Hollow. "It is for good reason ‘Harry Lee’ is known as the ‘The Father of Golf in Texas.’ The legacy he left continues today with Brook Hollow’s support of amateur golf in the state of Texas.”
Now Zalatoris’ name will be etched into the H.L. Edwards Memorial trophy next to the likes of past champions Ben Crenshaw, Scott Verplank, Bruce Lietzke and Mark Brooks to name a few.
Fort Worth’s Andrew Presley finished third at 4-under 280. Mason Greenberg, the 16-year-old high school junior who played in the final group with Zalatoris and Nolen, took fourth place at 1-under 283. Zach Atkinson, the 2004 Texas Amateur champion, was the highest mid-am finisher. He claimed seventh place at 2-over 286.
(story courtesy Texas Golf Association)