Have fun today young man. Mr. Gilmore is watching you and very proud. pic.twitter.com/iwOEuMdR8W
— Adam Sandler (@AdamSandler) April 11, 2021
Will Zalatoris is destined for stardom. He is mentored by Tony Romo, trolled by Adam Sandler because of his resemblance to the “Happy Gilmore” caddy and been friends with Jordan Spieth since they were paired together when he was 9.
Never mind that he doesn’t have any full-time status on the PGA Tour, not yet, anyway (he is a special temporary member which allows him unlimited sponsor exemptions). Or that his size 28 waist makes him look as though he should be playing in a high-school match, not making his first appearance and contending at the Masters.
If you’re ever in need of a caddie again let me know. I’ll be better this time. I’m always available for you, Mr. Gilmore. https://t.co/R1e8awZIvh— Will Zalatoris (@WillZalatoris) April 12, 2021
But there he was, finishing one shot behind Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan in his maiden appearance at the Augusta National Golf Club, shooting a final-round 70 and breathing in just about every moment he could during his walk through the Georgia pines.
“Absolute dream,” Zaltoris said when it was all over on Sunday and he was sitting in the interview room in the media center. “To be in a situation, I’ve been dreaming about it for 20 years. I thought I did a really good job this week of just enjoying the moment, but not letting it get to me. I think I’ll kind of let everything soak in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and then back to work on Thursday.”
Zalatoris, 24, won’t be sneaking up on anybody when he gets back to work, not after he finished at 9-under 279 at Augusta National and became the darling of the patrons who gave him a standing ovation at the 72nd green.
He started his day with back-to-back birdies at the opening holes, then finished with birdies at Nos. 15 and 17. At 6-foot-2 and just 165 pounds, he never backed down from the fight.
Unlike his third-round charge to the finish on Saturday when he was 6-under par on his final eight holes, Matsuyama kind of dragged himself to the finish line on Sunday, bogeying three of the final holes to allow Zalatoris to finish just a shot from the lead.
The last Masters rookie to win the green jacket was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. Still, it was the best runnerup finish by a player making his first Masters appearance since Dan Pohl in 1982.
“I looked at every leaderboard all the way in,” Zalatoris said. “I’ve seen enough coverage of this tournament, when they put the time stamps of leaderboards where at 4:15 eastern there’s a five-shot lead and at 4:30 it turns to three and at 5:00 there’s three guys tied for the lead. So I knew I needed to stay in it.”
Adam Sandler wished Zalatoris good luck because he said he looks like the character, Jared Van Snellenberg, who played his caddy at the Waterbury Open in the 1996 cult movie ” Happy Gilmore.” Zalatoris even has a line from the movie — ” Mr. Gilmore, I’m your caddy” — stamped on his wedge because of the uncanny resemblance.
But Zalatoris also looks like actor Owen Wilson, one of the “Wedding Crashers,” which is fitting because Zalatoris was doing the same thing at Augusta National — crashing a major championship and almost walking away with the girl.
“It was a lot of fun, obviously, hearing a lot of the patrons over the last — especially the last couple days — saying my name, you know, cheering me on on every single hole between every single shot. It was really special.
“You know, when you think of playing in this tournament, you think of the shots, but hearing the patrons rooting for you just because they know that I’m the underdog was really cool.”
Zalatoris was playing in the Masters because he finished tied for sixth at the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. And he only qualified for the U.S. Open because he was the leading the Korn Ferry Tour points list with $403,978 in 16 events.
By finishing second at the Masters, he more than tripled those earnings by taking home $1,242,000.
“The fact I put myself in contention and was able to handle it and be in the final group in my third major in my entire career is obviously really exciting,” Zalatoris said.
Zaltoris has been climbing golf’s ladder since he received his first unplanned lesson from Hall of Famer Ken Venturi, who happened to see him on the range when he was 6 and taught him how to grip the club. “Don’t ever change it,” Venturi said to Zalatoris. And he hasn’t.
Like Spieth and Tiger Woods, he won the U.S. Junior Championship in 2014 and went on to play in the Walker Cup in 2017 when he was a first-team All-American at Wake Forest. Nothing, though, can compare to what happened to him on a Sunday at Augusta National.
“I think the fact that I’m frustrated I finished second in my third major says something, and the fact that I didn’t let any moment really get to me, was really exciting,” Zaltoris said. “And obviously my two majors as a pro, I finished sixth and runner-up. I know if I keep doing what I doing, I’m going to have a really good chance in the future.”
He might even reach Happy Gilmore fame.
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.
First Published April 11, 2021, 9:15pm
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