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GREENSBORO, N.C. — While Will Zalatoris went about fulfilling autograph requests for rows of Wyndham Championship spectators after wrapping up his third round Saturday, a few feet away coach-turned-caddie Josh Gregory explained what he tried to provide during his emergency fill-in role.
“Hopefully a little smile,” Gregory said. “Most importantly, he needed to laugh and smile. He needed to have fun. And I think just commitment. I’m about as positive of a coach as I can be, and I was just super positive with him.”
It made for a contrasting scene in regard to the events that followed the finish of Zalatoris’ previous round one day earlier here at Sedgefield Country Club, when he fired caddie Ryan Goble in the middle of the tournament and called it “the toughest decision I’ve had to make in my golf career.”
The former Wake Forest star and one of the top-ranked players in the world, shot 4-under 66 in third round to improve to 7 under for the tournament, five strokes behind leaders Sungjae Im and Brandon Wu. The third round was suspended by storms Saturday and will resume at 7:30 a.m. Sunday.
Zalatoris delivered eight birdies on the day, recovering from a double bogey on the second hole and weathering two bogeys on the back nine with the 47-year-old Gregory, his short game coach, on the bag for the first time.
Zalatoris, 25, said Goble had been his only caddie on a sanctioned professional tour, and said “he’s basically been my best friend for the last three years.” He added, though, “it was just getting a little unhealthy for both of us and obviously it hurts” about their relationship — a partnering that produced eight results among the top 10, runner-up finishes at the PGA Championship and U.S. Open, and more than $6.6 million in earnings this season.
“We’ve kind of had a rough month together, and it was starting to affect our relationship,” Zalatoris said. “I know guys say that when they split, but it really was. We were guys that we would love to have dinner together and hang out and what was happening on the course was starting bleed off the course, and that’s not what you want.
Zalatoris said Joel Stock will caddie for him in the FedEx Cup playoffs, which starts next week in Memphis. Gregory said he pulled on-the-fly duty as a fill-in caddie for Henrik Norlander in February at the Phoenix Open.
“It was time for a change,” Gregory said of the split between Zalatoris and Goble. “And honestly, it’s what’s best for both of them. The change was coming anyway, and it was time to go ahead and rip the Band-Aid off.”
Zalatoris began the third round at 3 under for the tournament, six shots off the lead. Then, a wayward moment off the tee left him with double bogey on the second hole to drop to 1 under.
“Even when he made double on the second hole, I just said, ‘Hey, let’s go see how many birdies we can make. Let’s have fun,’” Gregory said. “And that’s what he needed. And then he just needed a little extra commitment, a little extra conviction in his decisions. So just tell him how good he is. It’s pretty easy when you’re carrying his bag. He’s really good.”
Adam Smith is a sports reporter for the Burlington Times-News and USA TODAY Network. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or @adam_smithTN on Twitter.