Will Zalatoris had quite the year.
He came close to winning three times in 2022, including two major championships, before finally breaking out for his first victory on the PGA Tour at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, the first of three FedEx Cup playoff events.
The Wake Forest product has also been a great voice for the Tour since the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Series began to pry some of the game’s biggest names who sought paychecks over legacy.
Disappointingly, Zalatoris’ season came to a screeching halt at the BMW Championship when he sustained two herniated disks during the third round.
After a brief period of optimism that he may be able to play in the Tour Championship the following week, he announced he would not only miss the chance to play for the $18 million first-place prize, but would be unavailable for the Presidents Cup.
Zalatoris wasn’t one of the six automatic qualifiers, but he was expected to be one of Davis Love III’s captains picks.
Before his injury and maiden win, the 26-year-old sat down with Graham Bensinger to discuss LIV Golf, Rory McIlroy’s leadership, playing with Tiger Woods, growing up with Scottie Scheffler and Jordan Spieth and struggles after leaving college.
On LIV Golf: ‘I’ve never done this for money, ever.’
“If you look at the guys who have gone, and I’ve got no problem with the guys going. Everyone can make their own decisions,” he said. “A lot of them are older, or they’ve been injured, or they’ve been on the road for 20-plus years. They don’t wanna do it anymore and they wanna play for a couple more years and get a nice nest egg and call it quits.
“I’ve never done this for money, ever. If the U.S. Open had a $100,000 purse, I’d still show up to the U.S. Open. I’m in this to go win a major – that’s my career goal.
“There’s no amount of money that I would give to trade that for a trophy.”
The putt that didn’t drop
Will Zalatoris reacts after missing a putt on the 18th green during the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Down a single stroke to Matt Fitzpatrick at The Country Club, Zalatoris had a downhill, left-to-right slider for birdie on the 72nd hole to force the 2022 U.S. Open into a playoff.
It just didn’t fall.
“It stopped breaking and it’s one of those that sits in your mind every day at practice,” he said.
“Three inches from being a three-time major champion, so just keep doing what you’re doing and eventually those three inches will find itself.”
Thoughts on Rory McIlroy
“One of my favorite things that Rory McIlroy said is ‘The game doesn’t belong to anyone.’ It doesn’t belong to our era, it doesn’t belong to the future era, it doesn’t belong to the guys before us. It’s our job to make sure that we make it the best thing we can possible,” he said.
“If Rory was born in the United States, I’d vote him for president… He’s one of the most intelligent, well-spoken, introspective people I’ve ever met. I loved him growing up, watching him play, but now that I’ve gotten to know him and see how he’s been such a good custodian of the game, it’s so cool. We’re lucky to have a guy like that around.”
Playing with Tiger Woods
“I would love to play with Tiger at least once before he’s done-done. I know that would be an amazing experience, cause even at the PGA I played in front of him the first two days. We had more people with us because the people would come up to our group to follow us so they could get a better look when Tiger rolls through,” he said.
“The part that amazes me is that he just has such a hard time walking, but man, can he still play some good golf.
“Tiger could get a cart if he wants to, but you know he’s never going to take it…Selfishly, I’m like ‘Dude, get in the cart, I wanna play with you.”
Growing up with Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth
“I’ve basically grew up with two world No. 1s, between Scottie and Jordan. We’ve known each other forever and we had some great junior golf battles back in the day. It’s fun being so close with someone and going through the ranks together.
“Jordan is probably the most storied junior, I’d say, since Tiger. They’re the only two that have won multiple U.S. juniors. Jordan shot 63 at my home club when he was 14.
“He kicked my teeth in forever.”
Struggles after leaving college
“You leave early, cause I wanted that full year to get all of my starts. Cut my teeth as opposed to having a month and a half blitz and having to catch fire in a bottle. When you’re missing Monday qualifiers by four, five, six. When you’re not making money and you’re on your own, it’s just not fun at all.
“At the end of the year, (my team) kind of do a year in review. It was like, okay, this is rock bottom. You need to go do anything you can do. I kinda had to eat the humble pie and go play in some mini-tour events where you finish third and you make $600.
“It’s tough. Especially where I had had so much success for so long and there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever get to that next level. I mean, it doesn’t matter how hard you work. That’s just part of it.”
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek