By EDDIE PELLS, National AP Writer
BROOKLINE, Mass. (AP) — The putt slipped an inch — make it a millimeter — outside the left edge of the cup. Will Zalatoris crouched down and let go of the putter, feeling it slide off the back of his shoulder and onto the turf. He bounced his hands off the green then placed them on his face.
This is what agony looks like on a golf course. And while it’s never been more certain that Zalatoris is destined to win a major one day – probably soon – Sunday at the US Open was the most excruciating of his ever-growing list of close calls.
“I thought I had it,” Zalatoris said after his failure left him one hit and less than an inch from a playoff with champion Matt Fitzpatrick.
Zalatoris shot 1-under 69 to lose by one shot. The second-place finish comes just four weeks after Zalatoris finished second in the PGA Championship in a playoff loss to Justin Thomas. And less than 15 months after finishing second in the Masters by a meager shot behind Hideki Matsuyama.
All in all, it was his sixth top 10 at the majors since Zalatoris made his majors debut at the US Open at Winged Foot two years ago. He’s 25, has been on the PGA Tour for less than two years and has now finished second in three of four majors.
“I’m three shots away from having a chance of being a three-time major champion,” Zalatoris said. “A bounce here or there.”
He and Fitzpatrick were tied as they walked to the 15th tee, a monster 500-yard, par-4 with a blind drive down a hill. Fitzpatrick blocked his drive wildly to the right. Zalatoris missed his too, but not as much.
When they arrived at the balls, Fitzpatrick’s was sitting on a thin area trampled by the gallery. Zalatoris was gnarled in lush 4 inch tall grass.
Fitzpatrick birdied it from there; Zalatoris bogeys. He couldn’t get over that two-shot swing.
“We go down and he says, ‘I barely miss the fairway and I have an awful lie and he misses it from 30 yards and he’s fine,'” Zalatoris caddie Ryan Goble said. played. And yeah, it was a great experience. So you just say, ‘Yeah, we’ll get it next time.’ “
Zalatoris didn’t have his tour card in 2020 when the pandemic forced the USGA to scrap qualifying and grant exemptions to top Korn Ferry Tour players.
He made the field based on a high placing which was helped by what remains his only professional victory. What stands out from this Korn Ferry victory in Colorado is that Zalatoris came in first in the final round and wrote Goble a check for the winner’s share before hitting a shot that day.
It’s called trust, and it’s been growing ever since.
“It’s just his patience and his mentality when he has a bad hole, it’s unbelievable,” Goble said. “I’ve never been around someone who can just cut like that and move on to the next hole.”
Zalatoris came to the County Club on Sunday wearing a shirt studded with silhouettes of Frances Ouimet and her junior of 10 years, Eddie Lowery. It was Ouimet’s emotional victory here in 1913 that helped put golf on the map in America.
After 11 holes on Sunday, Zalatoris appeared to join Ouimet, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and everyone else in the pantheon of US Open champions.
He made 18-foot putts for birdies on the 9th and 11th to open up a two-shot lead. He gave a return shot on the par-4 12th. Then, after driving the ball wildly at 13, he answered a long birdie from Fitzpatrick with a 12-foot save by himself to keep the game tied.
All of this seemed to put an end, at least for a day, to the lingering questions about Zalatoris’ flat stick. All major hits aside, he came to the Country Club as the 160th-ranked putter on the PGA Tour.
The biggest putt of all barely slipped.
Half an hour after that miss, Zalatoris said he found some comfort in not missing any short putts, which hurt him on previous close calls, like on the 16th hole of the PGA Championship last month.
And he hasn’t made three putts all week.
And he went through 72 holes of golf’s toughest test without a double bogey.
“That usually leads to playing well at the US Open. So the recipe is there. The game is there,” Zalatoris said. “But like I said, I just have to wait my turn.”
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