Wake Forest’s Will Zalatoris forgoes final semester, turns pro

Will Zalatoris was the 2017 ACC Player of the Year and has the lowest scoring average in school history. (Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.com

A second collegiate star has turned pro in the middle of the season, adding another name to the list of prospects who will be seeking sponsor exemptions once the PGA TOUR season resumes in January.

Wake Forest senior Will Zalatoris, the 2017 ACC Player of the Year, announced Thursday that he will turn pro and forego his final semester of collegiate golf.

“I wanted to give myself the best chance to have a TOUR card for 2018 and 2019,” Zalatoris told PGATOUR.COM. “I want to give myself the best opportunity to set myself up for the future, so I wanted to have these extra six months to play in a few more events and build my routine.”

Zalatoris finished his Wake Forest career with a 70.44 scoring average, breaking the school record of former FedExCup champ Bill Haas. Zalatoris won four collegiate titles, as well as the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur.

His announcement came shortly after his Walker Cup teammate, Cameron Champ, made the leap to the pro ranks. Champ was in the middle of his senior season at Texas A&M.

This is believed to be the first time in recent history that two collegiate players of such high profile have turned pro in the middle of the same season.

“I think turning pro (in the middle of the season) will become a little bit more popular in the years to come, mainly because of the schedule,” Zalatoris said. “You get a full six months back of playing pro events. I was one of the kids who said, ‘You have four years of college and the rest of your life to play golf,’ but talking to some guys on TOUR, they mentioned how important that first year was.”

Champ finished T16 at last week’s Web.com Tour Q-School to secure status for the upcoming season. Zalatoris failed to advance out of second stage, so he will have to rely on sponsor exemptions and Monday qualifiers for starts on the PGA TOUR and Web.com Tour.

He has just 21 hours remaining toward his psychology degree, and is currently taking nine hours online. Being so close to completing his degree made it easier to leave school early, he said. He is planning to graduate in 2018.

Zalatoris isn’t the first U.S. Junior champion from Texas to turn pro after failing to advance out of Q-School’s second stage. Jordan Spieth took that path in 2013, winning that year’s John Deere Classic and qualifying for the TOUR Championship. Spieth and Zalatoris also share a swing coach, Cameron McCormick.

Turning pro early gives Zalatoris time to play both the PGA TOUR and Web.com Tour in his quest to earn a TOUR card.

The Wyndham Championship, the final PGA TOUR event before the FedExCup Playoffs and Web.com Tour Finals, is the only start he has confirmed on his schedule, he said.

Zalatoris is the third member of this year’s victorious U.S. Walker Cup team to turn pro, after Champ and Maverick McNealy. The U.S. defeated Great Britain & Ireland, 19-7, in September at Los Angeles Country Club.

Joaquin Niemann, the world’s top-ranked amateur, also is expected to turn pro in early 2018. Wyndham Clark, the 2017 Golfweek College Player of the Year, and Sam Burns, the 2017 Nicklaus Award winner, are other first-year pros who will be seeking TOUR starts in 2018. Both players earned full status at Web.com Tour Q-School.

McNealy, who graduated from Stanford with a degree in Management Science and Engineering, made his pro debut at the Safeway Open (T52). He also has sponsor exemptions into three PGA TOUR events in California (CareerBuilder Challenge, Farmers Insurance Open and AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am) and two in Texas (AT&T Byron Nelson, DEAN & DELUCA Invitational). He also has full Web.com Tour status for next year after finishing T10 at Q-School.

McNealy and Niemann are the past two winners of the Mark H. McCormack Medal, given to the world’s top-ranked amateur.

Spieth and Peter Uihlein are previous collegiate standouts to turn pro in December. Uihlein did so in 2011, forgoing his final semester at Oklahoma State to pursue starts on the European Tour.

Uihlein, the 2010 U.S. Amateur champion, won on that circuit in 2013 and is in the midst of his first season as a PGA TOUR member after winning the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship, the first event of this year’s Web.com Tour Finals. Uihlein, 28, is 40th in the current FedExCup standings.

Spieth turned pro in December 2012, halfway through his sophomore season at Texas.