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Major specialist Will Zalatoris finds value in near-misses but wants gold, not silver

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ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – As Will Zalatoris stays up until 4 or 5 a.m. on post-major Mondays, trying to come down from the emotion of the previous day, he’s learned to give himself a bit of grace.

Sure, he’s come close – agonizingly close – to earning not just one major championship but a handful.

But some perspective is needed here.

“We’re sitting here talking about me not winning a major,” he said, “and I’ve been on the PGA Tour for 20 months. It’s a pretty good spot to be in.”

Full-field tee times from the 150th Open Championship

The Open will mark Zalatoris’ 10th career major appearance, and he’s already amassed a record that puts him among the best players yet to win one. He has three runners-up (including in both of the past two majors), plus a pair of top 8 finishes.

Each near-miss has meant something different to him.

The 2021 Masters, when he played in the final group with eventual champion Hideki Matsuyama, was a sign that he’d arrived.

The 2022 PGA, when he lost to Justin Thomas in a three-hole playoff, was affirmation that he could win a major.

And last month’s U.S. Open, when he missed a 14-footer on the final green to force overtime with Matt Fitzpatrick, furthered his belief that he could become as good as he wanted to be.

“It’s something that has fueled my fire, for sure,” Zalatoris said, “and I know that, eventually, I’m going to get one one day. We’ve been this close. We’re talking about me having [three] runners-up in majors here. I think I’ll take that résumé, but obviously, I’d like to replace some of the silver medals with some gold medals.”

A reporter asked Zalatoris his process for, well, processing his three close calls at the majors. That’s when he said that he often stays up until 4 or 5 a.m. after the final round – and that he usually doesn’t begin to feel normal again until the following Wednesday or Thursday.

Zalatoris graduates from shed to hotel at 17

Will Zalatoris hadn't played the Old Course before this week, but he had some practice playing four of the holes on a tribute course.

“It’s not that I’m sitting there stewing,” he said, “it’s just trying to come down from the adrenaline.”

Besides, there hasn’t been much for him to dwell on.

Matsuyama backtracked on the second nine at Augusta National in 2021 to make the final margin appear closer than it actually was. Thomas birdied two of the three playoff holes to deny him at Southern Hills. And Fitzpatrick hit one of the most heroic shots in U.S. Open history when he skied his 9-iron out of the fairway bunker on the 72nd hole to secure his first major. Zalatoris still can’t believe that his birdie putt on the final green at Brookline didn’t drop – he said it looked good even a foot away from the cup. 

“I have no regrets,” he said.

The reporter followed up: So, you’re the type of person that doesn’t agonize over coming so close, so often?

“Oh, there’s plenty of agony on Mondays and Tuesdays, don’t worry,” Zalatoris said with a laugh. “I think that it’s a very tough pill to swallow because I would pay a lot of money for about an inch and a half in those three majors, considering that I’ve basically missed out on three majors by three shots. But that’s what motivates me. It’s why I get up early. It’s why, even on off weeks, I’m still grinding.”

Zalatoris remains one of the oddsmakers’ favorite this week at The Open despite making his debut appearance at St. Andrews. He arrived early, having missed the cut at the Scottish Open, but the unexpected weekend off has given him plenty of time to study the nuances of the ancient links.

“I think I’ve written more in my yardage book over the last four days than I think I have in my entire career,” he said.

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Much of the optimism surrounding Zalatoris, of course, stems from his peerless ball-striking; he’s the Tour leader in iron play and tops in strokes gained: tee to green. Having grown up in Texas, he’s also comfortable flighting shots in the crosswinds, but there’s an underreported aspect of Zalatoris’ recent record: his supposedly suspect putting doesn’t show up in the majors.

Though he ranks 122th on Tour on the greens, Zalatoris has been top 10 in that statistic in each of the three majors this year. Had all of the majors incorporated strokes-gained data, he would have ranked 36th in that category.

Before the PGA, he and performance coach Josh Gregory noticed on video that Zalatoris was tilting too much toward his back foot at address, causing him to see his lines out to the right. The quick fix has produced the best putting stretch of his career.  

“We’ve really taken a leap and added another fundamental to my blueprint in how I putt,” he said, “and that’s why I’ve putted so well since.”

It might be just the push he needs to get across the line at a major. Then, he can stay up late on major Sundays for a reason other than pure adrenaline.