Will Zalatoris keeps the faith after another close call at US Open

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BROOKLINE, Mass. — As Sunday afternoon finished gasping and Sunday evening started coming, 25-year-old Will Zalatoris said something golf geeks know and rational people almost disbelieve: “I’m three shots away from practically being a — having a chance of being a three- time major champion.”

He said it because it’s true.

It’s true because Zalatoris, who has entered all of nine major tournaments, has become a lavishly televised mainstay in a whole batch of them. It deserves a full typing-out that he has finished tied for sixth at the 2020 US Open at Winged Foot in New York; second by one shot at the 2021 Masters; tied for eighth at the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, SC; tied for sixth at the 2022 Masters; second in a playoff at the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa; and now second by one shot at the 2022 US Open at the Country Club. His contention has become a convention.

It’s incredible and it hurts, all at once.

“This one hasn’t sunk in,” he said soon after the drama on No. 18 left him a runner-up for a third time. “Masters [in 2021] was pretty special, just obviously being there, considering that seven months prior I was playing on the Korn Ferry [Tour], … Yeah, this one’s — I honestly don’t know what to take from this yet. I was pretty pleased just because I’m known for my ball-striking. I’m sure all the Instagram morons are going to say it has something to do with my left wrist flexion coming down, but I promise you, it’s got nothing to do with it. I think just keep doing what we’re doing.

“This one stings for sure, but I know that we’re going to get this.”

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In the latest tantalizing, Zalatoris’s 14-foot birdie try at tying Matt Fitzpatrick on the closing hole slid barely by and fooled both Scottie Scheffler and Zalatoris.

“When it was two feet out,” said Scheffler, the fellow Texan and top-ranked player who had finished his round and tied Zalatoris for second place, “I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that one’s in’ — and for some reason it went off to the left. It’s one of those deals. You’ve got to get the breaks.”

“With about six feet to go,” Zalatoris said, “I thought I had it.”

It’s striking that Zalatoris hasn’t won a tournament since the 2020 TPC Colorado Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour, the second tier of men’s golf. Yet already he’s a wild success story with a No. 12 world ranking and an arc that bends back to early childhood in San Francisco, where he got hooked at the California Golf Club with its shrine to Ken Venturi’s 1964 US Open trophy from Congressional, to later childhood around Dallas after the family moved, and to college at mighty Wake Forest.

“Will is a really talented player,” Scheffler said. “He’s strong mentally. That’s why he performs so well. It just happens the last two majors he’s been up against great champions in [Fitzpatrick] and Justin Thomas [at the PGA Championship], It’s one of those deals where you keep knocking on the door and keep putting yourself in position, and he’ll come through.”

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In the act of gathering major experience, this ready blond with a sturdy mind has been gathering major experience like mad. His ninth major brought his third final pairing already, with caddie Ryan Goble on the first tee mentioning how both felt far more nervous at the 2021 Masters. Now this rarefied terrain actually feels normal, and Zalatoris said, “I just felt comfortable all day.”

He led by two with seven holes to play, and he found his driving “atrocious” with a hip bothering him, yet he shot a 69 in the pressure to which he has become accustomed to make it all four rounds at par (one) or better (three).

“The comfort level is there,” he said, “especially now that I know I can do this. I just have to keep waiting my turn.”

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