Will Zalatoris Is Enjoying The Ride As Golf’s Fastest Rising Star Entering The U.S. Open

Will Zalatoris’ meteoric rise has been well documented, as he’s climbed from having a four-figure world golf ranking a couple years ago — needing to Monday qualify for Korn Ferry Tour events — to a legitimate contender for the 2021 U.S. Ryder Cup team who posted three-straight top-10s in majors, including a second-place finish at this spring’s Masters.

Zalatoris is now 29th in the Official World Golf Rankings and enters the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on Thursday looking to continue his strong performances at majors. The 24-year-old out of Wake Forest may be finding himself near the top of leaderboards at the PGA Tour’s biggest tournaments now, but he hasn’t forgotten where he was just a year ago and is making sure to not get ahead of himself as he plays in the sport’s most iconic events.

Heading into the U.S. Open, Zalatoris is partnering with Gillette deodorant alongside fellow young star Max Homa for their new 72 Club, which will sponsor NextGenGolf’s City Tour. We got to speak with Zalatoris on behalf of Gillette as he prepped for the U.S. Open about what this last year has been like, how he’s trying to stay grounded in working on his game and not getting ahead of himself, enjoying the ride and the experiences he’s been able to have, and more.

What has the last year been like for you professionally? From from the U.S. Open last year to now coming up on this year’s, how would you describe what this has been like in this this ride you’ve been on?

Yeah, I mean, bizarre I think would still be a mild term. But yeah, I mean going from the Korn Ferry Tour to thinking I’m gonna have two years out there to being on the PGA Tour, doing it a different way — I thought I was gonna have to win three times on the Korn Ferry Tour and then turning getting a start in the US Open and parlaying that into special temporary status. It’s just been a whirlwind. I mean, obviously peaking with Augusta, being the biggest part of the whirlwind, and you know hopefully even more of it coming in the future.

So yeah, it’s … you know, I get asked all the time, “what are your goals coming up,” and I’m like, dude, seven months ago I didn’t even think I was gonna remotely be on Tour. I thought I was gonna have to go win two more times on the Korn Ferry, which I knew I could do in two weeks, but it still is just not on my radar. Now all of a sudden I’m playing practice rounds with Phil, Steve Stricker, and Zach Johnson at a major, kind of doing a little bit of a Ryder Cup intro just to kind of get to know ’em a little bit. So yeah, there’s lots of kind of pinch yourself moments but at the same time, this is what I worked for, right? Let’s enjoy this. Let’s appreciate it, but I’ve got a lot of great opportunities to do some damage coming up.

Yeah you were Monday qualifying for Korn Ferry Tour events not too long ago and there’s such a grind. I think people don’t recognize the talent level through the Korn Ferry Tour is ridiculous. I mean, those guys can walk out and shoot mid-to-low 60s at a course and it’s really about being able to take that to tournament golf, finding that consistency, and mentally being able to approach tournament golf. What did you learn over the last couple years about the mental side of the game and what it takes to you know, ride that wave and not get too high but also not get too low when things are going tough?

Yeah I think the thing — I think that’s the beauty of having the attitude of every week, it’s just a chance to get better. It doesn’t matter if it’s just doing a Monday qualifier, because I played in 30 plus of those, and you could say I was successful and I still was getting at a 20 percent clip, I think I got into maybe six and played in 30. I think it’s even going into just regular Tour events, it’s just another chance to get better. I mean, the US Open, that I played in at Winged Foot, you know, basically it’s like, hey you’re given a spot here, get to play against the best players in the world, you’re on a brutal golf course, I mean, go play. You got nothing to lose. I mean, my God, you’re kind of playing with house money and so you that’s the attitude that I’ve carried over the last really couple years.

But that’s why I don’t change that attitude now I’m trying to make a Ryder Cup team. It’s like, the last couple weeks I’ve been a little off my putter, let’s get this putter back going. You’ve been hitting it great, I worked really hard over the last couple of months to get my ball striking back and now I feel like I’ve got to go work on my putting again — so welcome to golf, right? I’m more invested in that than I am on, “oh you’ve been close to winning majors, you got to win a major soon, you got to take advantage of this.” Like, my job is to get better as a golfer, and the good golf will come from that.

You’ve obviously you’ve played well in majors and you’ve had top 10s of the U.S. Open, the Masters, and the PGA now. You mentioned that mentality of I’m just trying to get better, but when you’re in the moment, the majors are just a mental grind — especially the U.S. Open when you’re in a round, and you find yourself in six inch rough over and over and you’re just battling for pars. How do you take that step back and say, “look we’re gonna enjoy the experience and we’re also just working, and I can only control what I can control,” and learning to be able to do that, when the USGA is just trying to break you?

I think you just trying to have fun. I know that’s a super weird way of saying it, but it’s like the final day at Winged Foot I made like three 20 footers for par, made like one 40 footer from off the green for birdie, you know, had to make a bunch of crazy side winding putts just to shoot even par. And it’s like, in a weird, sick way I think it’s fun. And I don’t wish that on any zero handicap, let alone a 10 handicap, but I find it — I think it’s just the fact that it’s that hard and I know that if I’m out there and I’m one of the best ball strikers in the world, and I’m having to grind. What are the other guys going to be doing? So, yeah.

You mentioned just kind of enjoying the ride. and look, you’ve played some of the most iconic courses in the world over the last year — Winged Foot, playing at Augusta, Kiawah is a newer one but still has tons of history since ’91. Now you go to Torrey Pines. Do you just kind of do you take a step back and go, wow like look at these courses that I’m able to go play and get these experiences?

Yeah, I think Augusta obviously tops everything, where it’s your first tee shot of a practice round is like, “wow, there’s a lot of people around here.” Like, this is Tuesday at like 11 o’clock, like kind of bizarre. But yeah, I think especially places like Torrey that we got coming up here where, basically, when you’re on the south side of the property and you’re looking south on the shoreline, it doesn’t get any prettier than that, and especially if you’d want to talk about history. Winged Foot being one of the toughest U.S. Open venues out there, obviously, a lot of history there.

Obviously this week, you know, I’ll be thinking of Tiger and the 47 times that he won golf tournaments at Torrey Pines. So, that was one thing I think I did a really good job at Augusta was every single hole, I can think back to what somebody did. There’s some story about every hole. And I went through it, and it was like I literally could name for all 18 holes at least one story, which I thought was kind of wild.

But I think it’s just enjoy the ride. I think the fact that a year ago I was hadn’t even won on the Korn Ferry Tour, and now, basically I was upset that I didn’t win the Masters a year later is, it’s a pretty cool spot to be in.

How did this partnership with with Gillette come about and what do you have going on with them — it’s a fitting week to be be partnering with the deodorant brand because the USGA is going to try and make you sweat for for 72 holes right?

Exactly, exactly. So it was a perfect partnership. When I first turned pro, I put a list of companies that I thought would be a great partner, or companies that I want to partner with and Gillette was one of them. So I was super excited when I got the call that we were going to do this but the 72 Club, obviously with their new 72 hour deodorant/antiperspirant. We’re going to, Max [Homa] and I, have a fun announcement on Thursday on Instagram. So be on the lookout for that, but turn in your scores and might have a chance to go play Whistling Straits in September for the little championship we got running, so it’ll be fun.

Finally, Masters week was kind of the introduction for a lot of casual golf fans to you because everybody watches the Masters. What was that like suddenly having people know who you are and learning a little bit about you and Adam Sandler’s tweeting at you and stuff like that?

Yeah, it was different. That month was a lot of fun. I got engaged, my life had kind of changed in reality after the Masters and then it changed again two weeks later when I got engaged. Needless to say this year has been the best year of my life, without question, but it’s been different. It’s been a lot of fun, you know, the opportunities that have come from my play have been super fun and I’ve tried to enjoy every minute of it. I know that if I keep playing good golf more and more will come.