A new sleeve of golf balls? $15. Greens fees at a local muni? $50. A credit card revealing a gear fix significant enough to give a top-40 player in the world a new lease on life?
Now that’s priceless.
Putting has never been the strength of Will Zalatoris’ game. In three years at the pro level, he’s never ranked higher than 90th in either putting average or strokes gained: putting. In 25 PGA Tour starts in 2021, Zalatoris has actually lost strokes to the field putting, good for 123rd on Tour.
In short, Zalatoris has not been a good putter. He knew this. But he also didn’t think he was this bad.
“It kind of got in my dome,” he told GOLF.com during a promotional event for Gilette’s ’72 Club.’ “I was hitting some of these putts and I’m like, ‘I didn’t pull that. It was literally a solid putt.’ I couldn’t figure it out.”
Which brings us to earlier this summer, when a scary-looking injury at the Open Championship forced the 25-year-old to take two weeks off from competition. With an unintended break in the season, the young pro did what young pros do: he met up with coach Josh Gregory and got to work on the only thing he could: putting.
Quickly, the pair noticed something wrong — Zalatoris’ misses were erratic, even though his putting stroke looked fine. Gregory suspected the issue was with his posture, but just to be sure, took a look at his client’s putter face. A few seconds later, Gregory reached for his credit card — something wasn’t right.
“My old putter, because it was an insert, the insert actually caved in,” he said. “I hit so many putts that we literally put a credit card on it, and put it up by the face, and you could see an indention in the middle of the face.”
Suddenly, all of those good-feeling misses began to make sense. If the face wasn’t rigid all the way across, any putt that caught the center of the face was liable to go in any number of directions.
“We did a drill where I’m hitting blind putts, and then I’m guessing where they’re going,” he said. “With my old [putter], I was losing just because the face was just backspin and sidespin.”
Zalatoris wasn’t sure whether to be excited or heartbroken.
“Finally, we looked at it and it was like, insert expletive here, ‘you stupid’ … whatever,” he said.
After airing out some frustration (and working with a new, solid-faced putter), he’s settled firmly upon “excited.”
“It’s awesome,” Zalatoris said. “We ended up taking this other [putter] and I was just hitting putts. Josh was covering my left eye and was like, ‘okay where is it?’ I said ‘it’s two feet by’ and then [the ball] is two feet by. Or like, ‘that’s right at it’ and it’s like, roughly within six inches of the hole. So it’s been awesome.”
“Awesome” might actually be underselling it. In both of his starts since making the change, Zalatoris has ranked near the top of the field in strokes gained: putting. At the Wyndham Championship, he averaged .661 strokes gained: putting — more than a half-stroke stroke better than his average. At the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, he was a stroke better than his previous average. For a player with eight top-10 finishes on Tour in 2021, and who finished one stroke short at the Masters, it’s not hard to daydream about the sort of difference a stroke per round (or more) could make.
“I putted awesome the last two weeks of my season, so I would have loved to have been able to get around this playoffs,” he said. “I think that’s something that, it’s eating at me every day, it’s motivating for sure.”
Now comes the hard part for the reigning Masters runner-up: waiting. Zalatoris did not qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs (a stretch of tournaments reserved for full-status PGA Tour members, which the 25-year-old is not), so he’s spent the last few weeks at home. He’s scheduled to make his next start at the Korn Ferry Tour’s Fortinet Championship in Napa Valley, Calif. in two weeks. He’ll continue working with the new putter there, along with a tweak to his setup he says has helped him reach a “more neutral” position throughout the stroke.
He has yet to hear whether he’ll be included among Steve Stricker’s final six “captain’s selections” for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. But if Stricker comes calling, he’ll be eager to answer.
After all, he contends, if anything warrants a longer look from the American brass, it’s the fact he worked himself into the Ryder Cup conversation with a caved-in putter face.
“Every guy will always say, ‘oh yeah I got this big game-changer, I’m super excited,’” he said. “We figured out a fundamental that we have not worked on. The fact that we hadn’t talked about it, and I’d had that much success and hadn’t noticed, it’s actually kind of hilarious.”
See? Even the pros have credit card rewards.
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