After a frustrating year, Plano local Will Zalatoris finally had a breakthrough last Sunday, August 14, when he won his first PGA Tour event, the FedEx St. Jude Championship at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee on the third playoff hole against Austrian Sepp Straka.
This has been a long-awaited triumph for the golfer. Before this win, Zalatoris was the best-ranked golfer in the world without a PGA Tour victory. Earlier this year, he lost the lead in the Farmers Insurance Open against Luke List in a sudden-death playoff and later finished second in both the PGA Championship in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the U.S. Open in Brookline Massachusetts.
In addition to the pressure of the previous losses, Zalatoris was also debuting a brand new caddie. After an emotional mid-tournament split with Ryan Gobles, his longtime caddie and friend, he hired Joel Stock. Together they power through an intense playoff, filled with twists and turns.
In a dramatic turn of events, Zalatoris reached the par-3 11th hole and the ball came well short of the green, bouncing eight times along the stone border that divides the water from the green. From where Zalatoris was standing, it looked like it fell into the pond.
“I thought there was no chance that ball was covering the water,” said Zalatoris via Golf Digest. “When it landed and saw it bounce a few times and heard the crowd cheer, I knew I got a pretty fortunate break.”
Right after, Straka made almost the exact same shot, but with no luck, his ball fell into the water. “I figured he probably had a chip,” Straka said. “Yeah, the wind kind of caught me off guard on that one. I guess it did him, too. That’s why we both kind of hit it a little right.” While Srtaka proceeded to the drop zone, Zalatoris and Stock were contemplating their next move.
They looked at the ball looking for a way to save it. “Considering where Sepp was, and he had four feet for 5, there’s no reason for me to try that shot and make it back right into the grass and go back in the water and all of a sudden I’ve lost the golf tournament,” Zalatoris said. “I knew I wouldn’t have played the shot, but I at least was going to take a peek at it. Joel told me about three times, ‘Hey, Sepp’s got four feet for 5, go back, go back.’”
That’s when Stock persuaded Zalatoris into the drop zone on 11. From there, Zalatoris hit the third shot to seven feet and made a bogey, winning the playoff with its $2.7 million purse, without a doubt taking the sting off the close calls from earlier this year.
Sunday was the first of three events in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and this victory places Zalatoris first in the cup, earning a chance to snatch the $18 million prize in two weeks.
In case you missed it, here’s Local Profile report on the upcoming championships in PGA Frisco