Zalatoris, Riley progress from U.S. Junior finalists to roommates
April 03, 2020
By Sean Wildhack, PGATOUR.COM
Will Zalatoris defeated Davis Riley, 5 and 3, in the 2014 U.S. Junior final at The Club at Carlton Woods. (Courtesy of Davis Riley/Will Zalatoris)
Over the past year, Davis Riley and Will Zalatoris have proven to be two of the most consistent players on the Korn Ferry Tour. Riley earned his first victory earlier this season at the Country Club de Bogotá Championship, while Zalatoris has missed only four cuts in 20 starts.
The two are members of a young talented contingent of players on the Korn Ferry Tour, but their history goes back further than most. Both Riley and Zalatoris have achieved success at every level, but their most memorable round may have come from their junior golf days back in 2014.
After several years of competing against one another, Riley and Zalatoris met on one of the biggest stages in junior golf at the 2014 U.S. Amateur Championship Final, contested at The Club at Carlton Woods. Zalatoris was playing in his fifth U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, while Riley had finished runner-up the year before. Riley’s 2013 defeat came at the hands of Scottie Scheffler, the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year.
In the 2014 Final, Riley and Zalatoris got off to hot starts with birdies on the opening hole. The pair went back-and-forth throughout the opening 18, with neither player able to pull away.
“It was a dog fight,” said Zalatoris. “I don’t think the match ever got more than 2-up in one direction.”
Riley and Zalatoris continued their strong play throughout the morning. Entering the second 18 holes, the match was all square.
“It went both ways all morning,” Riley said. “We were both playing awesome. After the first 18, you knew it was going to be a fight for sure.”
As the match turned to the second 18, both players continued their strong play. As the day went on, Zalatoris began to pull away as they turned to their final nine. The Dallas native held a 3-up lead entering the final stretch of holes.
On the 32nd hole, the par-4 14th, Riley found the left rough off the tee and faced a difficult second shot. Zalatoris, who held a 3-up lead at the time, striped his drive down the middle.
Despite being in the rough with tree trouble, Riley pulled off a miraculous shot through a tree to within 10-feet of the hole.
“The way Will was playing, I knew he was going to have a good birdie look,” Riley said. “I knew I needed to pull something off. It was just a crazy shot; somehow it landed perfectly, hooked out of the rough and wound up with a fairly decent birdie look. I thought to myself, ‘That’s about all I could’ve done from there.’”
After assuming he had the advantage off the tee, the pressure was back on Zalatoris.
“The shot that Davis hit was probably the best golf shot, to that point, that I had seen,” Zalatoris recalled. “The next thing you know, he’s got a birdie look and that kind of changed things for me.”
While Riley had an unexpected birdie look, Zalatoris responded with the shot of the championship. From the fairway, Zalatoris holed his wedge shot for eagle and took a commanding 4-up lead with four holes to play.
“To this day, I will admit I pulled the living hell out of that wedge,” Zalatoris said.
“My dad always says, one of the cooler things about that moment was Davis actually picked up my ball out of the hole. He threw it over to me as sign of sportsmanship.”
On the next hole, Riley conceded a par putt that secured the victory for Zalatoris.
“At that point, it was pretty tough to compete with that when he’s holing shots out from the fairway,” Riley said with a laugh.
Will Zalatoris (center) and Davis Riley (right) in their junior golf days. (Courtesy of Davis Riley/Will Zalatoris)
The match provided one of the most exciting finishes in tournament history, but also featured great golf from both players.
“That’s just how the day was, we were back and forth, and it was some great golf,” Riley said. “It’s pretty cool that we’re buddies today, and we can sit here and laugh and joke about it now.”
Before turning professional in 2018, Zalatoris had an incredible collegiate career at Wake Forest University. Riley chose to attend the University of Alabama, where he was a standout for the Crimson Tide. When Riley was debating whether to turn professional or stay in school, one of the first calls he made was to Zalatoris.
“Will was one of the first people I reached out to when I was considering turning professional,” Riley said. “I thought of who I could reach out to who’s done this before. I was thinking of people whose brain I could pick, and Will was one someone I talked to.”
Will Zalatoris (second from right) and Davis Riley (right) are now regulars on Korn Ferry Tour leaderboards. (Courtesy of Davis Riley/Will Zalatoris)
After both players had turned professional, Riley moved to Dallas with his girlfriend. Zalatoris was looking for a roommate and the two connected once again.
“It just made sense,” Zalatoris said of living with Riley. “We’ve known each other forever and his girlfriend was in Dallas. I wanted to be around somebody who I know works really hard. Now I’m chasing him, so hopefully I can get a win on my side of the hallway.”
Despite supporting each other on the Korn Ferry Tour, their matches at their home course, Maridoe Golf Club, bring the best out of them.
“It’s all love and we’re always rooting for each other,” Zalatoris said. “I think our rounds at Maridoe are more competitive than our rounds on Tour. When we’re at Maridoe, we’re trying to kill each other, but on Tour we want to see each other succeed.”
Along with his victory in Panamá earlier this year, Riley has recorded two additional top-15s this season and is ranked second in The 25. Zalatoris, who is ranked 18th on the Korn Ferry Tour Points List, has made the cut in each of his five starts.
Now nearly six years removed from their epic shootout, they’re on the verge of the PGA TOUR.
“At the end of the day, we want to see each other do really well,” Riley said. “It’s cool that we’ve both gotten off to really good starts so far. Hopefully, when it’s all said and done, we’ll be teeing it up on the PGA TOUR.”