SAN FRANCISCO, CA (July 14, 2016) -- Will Zalatoris from Plano came to The Olympic Club and the 113th Trans-Mississippi Amateur Championship this week with two goals. Firstly, he wanted to play 72 holes, something he was unable to do in 2014 when Zalatoris won this tournament in the rain-shortened affair at Southern Hills Country Club. More importantly, Zalatoris also wanted to put his name on the trophy a second time.
“Just like Jack Nicklaus,” he said early in the week.
Aspiring to emulate the game’s all-time greatest champion has to be among the most ambitious of goals, but in this respect Zalatoris and Nicklaus share common ground. With a 5-foot par putt on iconic 18th hole at The Olympic Club’s Lake Course, Zalatoris on Thursday scored a one-shot victory over Ruben Sondjaja from Ames, Iowa. Zalatoris recorded a 72-hole score – mission accomplished, there, too – of 6-under 274 to win the prestigious championship for a second time.
Just like Jack Nicklaus.
The Golden Bear, before the first of his record 18 major championships, won the Trans-Miss Championship in 1958 and ’59. Zalatoris held off Sondjaja, the Iowa State senior who clawed his way to an even-par 70 in the final round to post 5-under 275 overall. University of Texas junior Doug Ghim from Arlington Heights, Ill., finished third at 2-under 278. Four players tied for fourth at even-par 280.
For Zalatoris, who grew up in the Bay Area before his family moved to Texas in 2004, his second Trans-Miss Championship was sweeter than the first, when lightning and heavy storms cut the event to 36 holes.
“I wanted to solidify this after I won it the first time,” said Zalatoris, a Wake Forest junior with two collegiate victories in addition wins at the 105th Texas Amateur and the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2014. “In the back of my mind, yes, I did want on that trophy twice with Jack Nicklaus. That was a huge goal. It wasn’t easy, though.”
Zalatoris made it look pretty simple through the first two rounds. Playing on what he called “cruise control,” he shot rounds of 66-65 to stake a one-shot lead over Arizona State senior Jared du Toit headed into Thursday’s 36-hole finale. Zalatoris stumbled with a third round 74 while du Toit torched the final three holes with birdie-eagle-birdie to grab a three-shot lead through 54 holes.
During the final round, however, du Toit found himself in trouble time and again – he suffered two unfortunate plugged lies in bunkers – and wilted with a 10-over 80. Sondjaja, who began the final round tied with Zalatoris at 5-under, kept pace over the final hours of the championship. As the marine layer crept in from the nearby Pacific Ocean and created an eerie fog over the historic golf course that has hosted five U.S. Opens, Sondjaja piled up par after par while one group behind him Zalatoris did the same.
Zalatoris finally broke through with an 8-foot birdie on the ninth hole to take a one-shot lead. The moisture in the air made the mid-50-degree temperatures feel much colder, but Zalatoris and Sondjaja remained steady in the elements. When Zalatoris walked in a 20-foot birdie on the famous par-5 16th, he pushed his lead to two shots. A minute later, Sondjaja rolled in a 3-footer for birdie on 17 to trim the advantage back to one.
Sondjaja missed the 18th green on his approach and scrambled for his par. That left the stage for Zalatoris, who eased in his par-saving putt for the victory.
“Today was just awesome,” he said. “Especially with having friends and family around me here, it means a lot. I can’t wait to get this trophy home to Dallas. You have no idea.”
Sondjaja, for his part, was upbeat after receiving his runner-up crystal hardware. He broke through for his first college win at the Hawkeye Invite in April and knows he’s trending in the right direction.
“Even-par at the Olympic Club is a good score any day,” he said. “With what was on the line today, I think it was a respectable score. I’m really proud of myself for the way I played under the gun. Was it my best game today? Probably not, but I’m happy with how I played.”
SMU Coach Jason Enloe won the Low Mid-Amateur honors with a score of 10-over 290. He tied for 40th overall. The top 30 finishers are exempt into the 114th Trans-Miss Championship, to be played next summer at Prairie Dunes Golf Club in Hutchinson, Kan.
There was much to celebrate this week at The Olympic Club. Twenty-three of the top 200 players in the World Amateur Golf Rankings competed, making it one of the top amateur tournaments in the world this year. Zalatoris entered the week ranked 60th, a number that surely will improve when the new rankings are published.
The golf course, too, provided a memorable canvas on which Zalatoris painted his victory. Built in 1927, The Olympic Club has not only stood the test of time; it has tested the very best who have ever played the game. In 1955, unheralded Jack Fleck defeated Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff. Webb Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club when he held off Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell. The Lake Course also was the site of the Billy Casper’s 1966 U.S. Open victory, the one in which Arnold Palmer surrendered a seven-shot lead with nine holes to play.
For the 113th Trans-Miss Championship, the hillside course framed by towering Monterey pines and cypress trees – nearly 40,000 of them – played tough, fair and, most of all, consistent. The stroke average never altered more than a half-stroke between all four rounds and finished at 73.49. That was a testament to the daily set up by the Texas Golf Association staff who conducted the event, as well as to the club’s maintenance staff. That hard-working group is led by Director of Golf Maintenance Troy Flanagan, a former Trans-Miss Golf Association Turf Scholarship winner.