BROOKLINE, Mass. — As his putt approached the outlet on the 18th green on Sunday evening, Will Zalatoris thought he was headed to an exhilarating playoff that might determine the U.S. Open champion. All of the ball needed to do was drop and Zalatoris and Matt Fitzpatrick would settle things in a two-hole playoff.
“With about six feet to go, I believed I had it,” Zalatoris said. He had checked his phone earlier and seen what Paul Azinger, the NBC golf analyst and former PGA Tour pro, had been saying. “That everybody missed that putt high,” Zalatoris added.
“He continued, ‘I used to be the closest one all day. I used to be, like, ‘thanks for the consolation prize.’”
Zalatoris is becoming painfully acquainted with consolation prizes. Last month, he lost the P.G.A. Championship to Justin Thomas in a playoff at Southern Hills in Tulsa. He finished second to Hideki Matsuyama within the 2021 Masters, just seven months faraway from the Korn Ferry Tour. And now, one other second place finish in one other major.
“It stings obviously to have three runners-up thus far in my profession in majors,” he said. “We’re obviously doing the correct things. I’d pay numerous money for about an inch and a half, and I’d probably be a three-time major champion at this point. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”
Zalatoris can look to the nice Ben Hogan for historical comparison. Hogan was repeatedly labeled a bridesmaid for his inability to win a significant throughout the early and mid Forties. He lost a playoff to Byron Nelson on the 1942 Masters after leading by three shots. He lost a probability at a playoff within the 1946 Masters when he three-putted from 12 feet, missing a 30-inch putt.
“It just wasn’t my time to win,” Hogan told The Latest York Times. “Nevertheless, there’s one other 12 months coming.” Two months later, on the U.S. Open outside Cleveland, he again three-putted on the 72nd hole, missing one other short putt and falling out of a playoff won by Lloyd Mangrum. But later that 12 months, he won the P.G.A. Championship, the primary of his nine majors.
The difference is that unlike Hogan, who had established himself as considered one of the sport’s premier players by consistently winning other tournaments, Zalatoris continues to be in search of his first victory on the PGA Tour. The consensus is that Zalatoris’s putting — particularly the short putt — is his Achilles’ heel. Though he putted relatively well on the Country Club — until he missed that birdie on the last hole in the ultimate round — he entered the tournament ranked one hundred and sixtieth on the tour in putting.
Asked what he thought when he saw Zalatoris line up a putt, Collin Morikawa said, “I pray for him. I mean, look, I’m not going to beat across the bush. I’ve said it since college, anything outside of that 8- to 10-foot zone, I mean, it’s as smooth as anyone else’s stroke.”
And inside 10 feet?
“We’ve seen some squirrelly putts,” Morikawa said. “Not that I’m the perfect putter and I actually have had that little squirreliness too, but I feel all of us type of get on our toes once we see it.”
Zalatoris had no trouble winning before he arrived on the PGA Tour. He won the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur championship. At Wake Forest, he was an All-American and ACC Player of the Yr. He twice won the Trans-Mississippi Amateur championship. He was on the victorious 2017 U.S. Walker Cup team, which also featured Scottie Scheffler, who tied with Zalatoris for second place on Sunday, and Morikawa, who finished tied for fifth.
This season, along with three second-place finishes on the majors, Zalatoris has finished second to Luke List in a playoff on the Farmers Insurance Open. He tied for sixth on the Masters, fourth on the Zurich Classic and fifth on the Memorial Tournament.
Sunday’s result on the Country Club was Zalatoris’s seventh top-10 finish in 12 events this 12 months. He has finished in the highest 10 in six of the eight majors during which he has played. It’s a formidable record — minus a glaring hole, or three.
“It’s just little things,” said Zalatoris, who turns 26 in August. “It’s not the identical thing at each one. We’re talking inches. It’s not like I finished runner-up by 4 or five a number of times. It’s been one for all three. So I’ve just got to maintain doing what I’m doing. I’ve got to maintain knocking on the door because eventually — like I said earlier, the comfort level is there.”
After Zalatoris had dissected his round and his ongoing battle to finally crack the winner’s circle, he received a parting gift from the US Golf Association: a silver medal for coming in second.