Will Zalatoris is 5-for-5 in cuts made to begin the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour season, finishing no worse than T34. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

 

The blueprint had been followed in the past – in fact, a recent PGA TOUR winner did the same thing – but that doesn’t mean the approach Will Zalatoris took to last season on the Korn Ferry Tour was any less stressful.

Zalatoris, a star collegiate golfer at Wake Forest (and past recipient of the Arnold Palmer Scholarship), played just one Korn Ferry Tour event in 2018 before deciding to try to go the Monday qualifier route the following season. Like J.T. Poston before him, the aforementioned TOUR winner, Zalatoris managed to parlay some excellent early-season finishes into status for the balance of 2019 and now, into 2020.

He spent a few minutes with PGA TOUR Digital to chat about his love of hockey and why it’s so interesting as a native Californian and a Texas resident, his mental approach to last season, what it was like to see his favorite baseball team win the World Series, and more.

You’re a huge Dallas Stars fan. As a Californian who lives in Texas, how did that happen? 

I’ve gotten to know a bunch of guys on the team; a lot of them are pretty good golfers. I’m a member at Maridoe Golf Club and we’ve got Joe Pavelski, Stephen Johns, and a bunch of other athletes (as members). I’ve gotten to know Stephen really well so it’s nice to see him back, and I’ve played a little with Joe. I was born in San Francisco so I’ve seen Joe play since he was just getting started (Note: Pavelski spent 13 years as a member of the San Jose Sharks, starting in 2006 when Zalatoris was just nine years old). It goes to show you what golf can do for you. It’s fun to follow them. It’s been a great season that’s for sure (Note: Dallas is first in the NHL’s Western Conference).

What prompted the move to Texas when you were younger?

My dad took over a major mall renovation here in Dallas and he was flying here three or four days a week. Finally it made sense for us to move here. My mom was able to work from wherever she wanted to then, and so it’s worked out great. I grew up playing golf, spoiled. Growing up in California, I played at California Golf Club, and it was absolutely fantastic. The only thing that was tough was that there weren’t any juniors out there. It was an all-male golf club. At some point in time, my dad was going to have to drop out or join a spot where I could play with other kids. My dad was traveling a whole bunch for work so it made sense to move out (to Texas). The story we always tell is that the first two junior events I ever played in – in Texas – I got paired with Jordan Spieth and then Scottie Scheffler, so I’ve been reaping the benefits of that move ever since.

Did your mentality change much starting in 2020?

I didn’t really change a whole lot from the year before. Obviously it worked. About two years ago, I started working with Troy Denton and Josh Gregory. Josh I’ve worked with predominately on short game, and Troy on the full swing. They’re just great guys. That’s the part that’s made it so much fun for me … the entire offseason was checking those boxes. Last year it worked and this year I wanted to keep building off what I’m doing, because I’ve seen steady progress for two years now. I was really excited obviously. A couple of those times last year, I might have had to birdie the last or play the last couple well under par to finish top-25 and get into the next week. Most guys when they’re looking at their scoreboards and they just think, ‘Oh well whatever, I’m T23,’ but for me it was either in the next week or Monday qualifying again. It’s life or death. It’s definitely a lot less stressful but the end goal is to get a TOUR card, so every point counts.

Was 2019 more of a physical or mental grind for you?

Good question, but probably more of a mental grind because of starting off the season without status. I finished ninth at the BMW (Charity Pro-Am) then missed the cut the following week in Springfield (Illinois). I was $3,000 short at that point of getting my card for the rest of the year so if I don’t Monday in at all or get a sponsor invite, I have to go back to Q-School. I ended up getting a spot in New York a couple weeks later and finished third, so not only did I lock my card up for that year, but also for the following year and made the (Korn Ferry Tour) Finals. You go from possibly going to Q-School to not having to worry about it for a year-and-a-half. The ups and downs of it all … that was a lot. So I just wanted to keep building on what I was working on and let things happen.

What made you decide on going to Wake Forest?

I wanted to go to a small school that was good with academics. I grew up wanting to go to Stanford but they had a pretty full team and it was bringing in four or five guys that year. They had (Maverick) McNealy ahead of me so they basically were full. By the time I was looking at schools, I was looking around and I had grown up with Lanny Wadkins’ kids in Dallas, so he said, ‘Go take a visit.’ It was very casual. He didn’t force it on me. I took a visit and absolutely loved it. The history of the guys who have been there is endless. The team has won three national championships. There was Curtis Strange, Jay Haas, Bill Haas, Lanny, Arnold Palmer … it was a top-30 school. It checked all the boxes. When it came time to get an offer, I was offered the Arnold Palmer Scholarship so my decision was kind of made for me.

Did you feel like there was extra pressure to perform because of the name attached to the scholarship you received?

No, not really. I came in during my freshman year and I had just won the Texas Amateur, the Trans-Miss, and the U.S. Junior that summer. I was coming in with a lot of confidence. It didn’t really cross my mind. I just wanted to keep doing what I was doing and act the way I was supposed to act. I was doing all I could to represent the name of Arnold Palmer. I’m sitting in my apartment right now and I actually have the letter he sent me when I won the U.S. Junior hanging up in my room. It’s one of my prized possessions. When it was sent to me, you know, he typed everything out. He signed the letter and I didn’t know if it was a real signature or not, so on the end of his signature I put my finger on it and it peeled off some of the ink (laughs). My mom said, “Oh my God, that’s real!” It’s not smudged at all but some of the ink has been lifted from it. I’m so lucky I didn’t smudge it.

Your San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010 and you were in the building. How was that experience?

Growing up, I had always been a Giants fan – even when we moved here to Texas. My Little League baseball team was the Dodgers, so it took us a while to accept, as a family, wearing those colors. We’re through-and-through Giants fan. Seeing Brian Wilson throw up his signature ‘X’ as a tribute to his dad and watching Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum battle it out was awesome. My dad and I were eight rows behind home plate (for the final game) and it was dead silent, but we were screaming. We decided to keep it down a little bit (the Giants beat the Texas Rangers, 4-1, and the clinching game was in Texas). There were a lot of really cool memories there.

Were there other sports drawing you to them while growing up? Or was it always golf?

It’s been golf most of my life. I loved playing baseball. I was a pitcher and played shortstop. The decision to play golf was made for me because I had a really tough time hitting pitches that were up in the zone. The only thing I could hit was low and away, and, well, where’s a golf ball? I loved pitching, but I thought if I really wanted to be good at this, I would have to drop back on golf and I absolutely loved golf and playing competitively against those guys in Texas … it was awesome. I always wanted to be a professional golfer. I would have loved to have been a baseball player, but at the end of the day if you throw something on the inside or high, you were definitely getting an out.

You have described yourself as a foodie before. Still true? And if yes, what’s the best meal you’ve had?

I get it from my dad. He worked for 35 years in retail and was trying all these different restaurants, trying to get chefs that owned their small shops to branch out and come to his properties. So probably a meal of Dim sum from San Francisco, that’s probably my favorite I’ve ever had. There’s a whole list of places from San Francisco that I absolutely love, but Dim sum to me … there’s nothing like it. The authenticity of the people pushing around the carts and not speaking much English and you not knowing what you’re getting but all of a sudden it’s the best thing you’ve ever had … I’m just a huge Dim sum guy.

Describe what a perfect day looks like for you?

It’s definitely in San Francisco. My whole day. I’d have morning pancakes at Cal Club, they have these thin pancakes that are absolutely the best things on earth … they’re probably about a foot wide and razor thin. You’d get a stack of eight or nine of them, and when I was younger I could eat almost the whole thing. They’re so good. Then I’d play 18 holes at Cal Club with my mom and dad, eat some Dim sum lunch and end our day at our favorite Italian spot in San Francisco, Vivace. I know there’s a lot of food involved in that, but Cal Club, any time I go back, it’s like a spiritual experience. What would happen on Saturdays (growing up) is (that) my dad would play 18 holes with his buddies and they’d have their game and my mom and I would be hanging out around the house; she’d take me to the gym and I’d play with the other kids. Then I’d play a short route with my dad – Nos. 1, 2, 3, hit drives on No. 4, then play No. 9 – then we’d have Orange Julius milkshakes and drive home. That’s basically how I got introduced to golf. I love Texas, absolutely love it; I almost consider myself a full-time Texan now. But it’s tough to not appreciate your roots.