Will Zalatoris didn’t let one of the biggest
disappointments of his young golf career keep him
down, instead using it as motivation to power his
tour de force performance on the 2014 amateur
circuit, which was highlighted by his July triumph in
the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.
After qualifying for four consecutive U.S. Juniors
from ages 12 to 15, Zalatoris failed to qualify in
2013. That slipup cost him a chance at a record six
U.S. Junior appearances, a fact not lost on him.
"It was my benchmark tournament every
year," he said. "Every year, I went out
and prepared with the U.S. Junior in mind. If I made
it [in 2013], I would have set the appearances record
and that's what I really wanted. I probably wanted it
With disappointment came improved patience,
and Zalatoris made good use of his newest attribute
as the calendar flipped to 2014.
In his final year of eligibility, Zalatoris qualified
for his fifth U.S. Junior, which tied him with six
others, including Jack Nicklaus (who never won the
Junior). Zalatoris is the only one of those players to
not play in five consecutive championships. But
before Zalatoris visited The Club at Carlton
Woods’ Nicklaus Course in The Woodlands,
Texas, for the 67th U.S. Junior, he had other
trophies in his sights.
Zalatoris, now 18, of Plano, Texas, posted a trio
of impressive victories leading up to the U.S. Junior:
the Trans-Miss Amateur, the Texas Amateur and The
Champions Invitational. His season also included a
59 in a non-competitive round.
Playing in his home state in the Junior, Zalatoris
seemed at ease at nearly all times, despite Carlton
Woods’ difficult layout. He shot a solid 4-
under-par 140 to finish tied for sixth in stroke-play
qualifying. Despite a pair of scares – he was 3 down
through four holes in the Round of 32 and had to
stave off a late charge from Curtis Luck in the
semifinals – the match-play portion of the
championship served as something of a Zalatoris
Zalatoris ousted co-medalist Sean Crocker in the
quarterfinals with a clinching 40-foot putt over a
ridge, and he played the afternoon round of the
championship match like someone using cheat codes
in a video game.
Following a nip-and-tuck morning session
against 2013 runner-up Davis Riley that finished all
square, Zalatoris simply took it to another level and
pulled away from Riley, who played outstanding golf
in his own right.
On multiple occasions, Zalatoris turned near
certain losses into unexpected halves or even
stunning wins with deft bunker play. He gradually
padded his lead to 3 up and hit the shot of the
championship on the par-4 14th.
After striping his drive down the middle, 119
yards from the flagstick, Zalatoris hit a soaring 56-
degree wedge that made a beeline for the flag and
one-hopped into the hole for an eagle 2. Video of the
shot made ESPN News’ top plays of the day.
"Scott [Fawcett, Zalatoris’ caddie
and mentor] and I like to look back at the end of a
tournament that I win and revisit the key shot that
summed up the victory," he said. "For
the Junior, there were probably five or six of them.
It was just a great week."
On the next hole, Zalatoris finally got to
experience the moment he had envisioned for so
"That was a tournament that I always wanted
to win," he said. "It's a USGA
championship. There's something about it when you
see those white signs at the teeing grounds. It gets
me so excited."
|Players who have competed in 5
U.S. Junior Amateurs
|John Konsek (1953-1957)
Jack Nicklaus (1953-1957)
Robert Kirouac (1956-1960)
Travis Whisman (1995-1999)
James Vargas (1997-2001)
*-Jim Liu (2009-2013)
*-Will Zalatoris (2009-2012, 2014)
With his name now engraved on a trophy
alongside names such as Tiger Woods, Johnny Miller,
Hunter Mahan, David Duval and Jordan Spieth,
Zalatoris would have been excused for taking it
easy. But he was far from done.
Zalatoris returned to USGA championship golf a
few weeks later in the U.S. Amateur at Atlanta
Athletic Club, where he made an impressive run to
the Round of 16 before losing to Zachary Olsen.
The success didn’t stop as the leaves
started to fall. Zalatoris transitioned to college life as
a freshman at Wake Forest University in Winston-
Salem, N.C. The recipient of the prestigious Arnold
Palmer Scholarship, named after the legendary
golfer and three-time USGA champion,
Zalatoris’ fall season was a rousing success.
Zalatoris led the Demon Deacons with a 70.18
stroke average and earned medalist honors at the
Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate, which Wake
Forest also won as a team in October.
Under the tutelage of what he termed
“the best coaching staff in college
golf,” led by head coach Jerry Haas and
assistant Dan Walters, Zalatoris has made major
strides in his short game.
With the fall semester set to wrap up next week,
there are still two items to cross off Zalatoris’
checklist before the calendar turns to 2015.
First, something very near and dear to his
heart: the Walker Cup Match. Zalatoris is one of 16
players invited to a practice session for the 2015
Walker Cup, Dec. 17-20 at Federica Golf Club in St.
Simons Island, Ga. An invitation to the practice
session doesn’t guarantee inclusion on USA
captain John “Spider” Miller’s
final 10-player roster, but Zalatoris is very
"I set a lot of short-term goals for myself
and this is one that is actually a long-term
goal,” said the No. 7 player in the World
Amateur Golf Ranking™. “The opportunity to
represent my country… I hope I get the chance to
play. Up on the wall in my dorm, I have a picture of
the Walker Cup and the last U.S. team that won [in
2013]. It's huge motivation for me. I really, really
want to put on the red, white and blue, and I know a
lot of other guys do, too."
The competition will be steep for sure, but he
outlasted the best of the best all summer. It would
seem unwise to count him out now.
Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the
USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.