Will Zalatoris finished second at the Masters in his first time playing Augusta National.
Despite his big win, Zalatoris still has not received his PGA Tour card.
Even without it, Zalatoris has already proved himself among the best players in the world.
Will Zalatoris had a dream debut at the 2021 Masters.
Just 24 years old, Zalatoris navigated the tricky tempers of Augusta National with wisdom beyond his years. Though Augusta National is usually a course that rewards those with a deep knowledge of its greens and undulations, Zalatoris boldly dove in headfirst against it and came out with a second-place finish and $1.2 million in winnings.
Zalatoris' attitude for managing the course was apparent from the start.
"Kind of the joke that I've been saying with my family is if I'm stupid enough to think I can play here, then I'm stupid enough to think I can win it," Zalatoris said.
-The Masters (@TheMasters) April 11, 2021
Whether it was stupidity, the freedom of a lack of expectation, or some other driving factor, Zalatoris played his first shot at the Masters close to perfect, contending on Sunday and finishing just one stroke behind the champion, Hideki Matsuyama.
Young players have made noise at the Masters before - Jordan Spieth won his green jacket at a spry 21 years of age - but Zalatoris' impressive finish at Augusta National is especially notable for the fact that he still has yet to receive his PGA Tour card.
After turning pro in 2018, Zalatoris worked his way into the Korn Ferry Tour, a minor league of sorts where players can earn PGA Tour status. By playing in Monday qualifiers, he achieved full status as a Korn Ferry player for 2020.
From there, things began happening quickly. Zalatoris won his first Korn Ferry event in July, earning himself an invitation to the US Open at Winged Foot. Playing against one of the most talented fields in golf, Zalatoris finished tied for sixth place, which helped him earn invitations to other PGA Tour events via sponsor's exemptions. While there is usually a limit to how many exemptions a player can accept in a season, two more top-10 finishes and another top-20 helped Zalatoris earn "special temporary membership" to the PGA Tour. That allowed him to play via sponsor's exemption in as many tournaments as would have him.
Given his success, it's clear Zalatoris should have his PGA Tour card, and he would already have it if not for COVID-19, which complicated the normal process of player promotion from the Korn Ferry Tour.
Still, Zalatoris is making the most of his time in the big leagues and is already showing that he's ready for the bright lights with both his play and his style.
He has even leaned into becoming a meme, with some fans comparing his boyish looks to Owen Wilson, while others believe he looks more like the caddie from Adam Sandler's "Happy Gilmore."
On Twitter, Zalatoris had a delightful exchange with Sandler after the actor wished him luck at the Masters.
-Will Zalatoris (@WillZalatoris) April 12, 2021
Zalatoris' situation is unique to the pandemic year. Had he already achieved full status on the PGA Tour, he'd rank in the top 15 in FedEx points and be well on his way to contending for the $15 million FedEx Cup prize at the end of the season.
As things stand, Zalatoris won't be able to cash in on those points unless he scores a win, which would automatically propel him to Tour status. While it's tough to beat the field in any PGA event, Zalatoris has already surpassed all but one player at the toughest test in golf. He also already navigated his way from the Korn Ferry Tour to competing with the best players in the world in just two years.
Even if the odds are against him, he's a tough man to doubt.
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