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Dustin Johnson may be No. 1 in the world, but Will Zalatoris is one of the PGA Tour’s hottest golfers entering the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island, where the first round begins Thursday morning.
Zalatoris’ second-place finish at last week’s Masters Tournament makes him the top Masters finisher in the RBC Heritage 132-player field, and he’ll be teeing off with Johnson and Martin Trainer, Adam Long, Brandt Snedeker and Billy Horschel at 8:17 a.m.
Comedian and film star Adam Sandler even tweeted about Zalatoris’ Masters’ run. The tweet included a picture of one of the caddies in the movie who resembles Zalatoris with a full head of blond hair atop his lean 6-foot-2, 165-pound frame.
The comparison and the attention from Sandler and the golf world don’t bother the 24-year-old, who now lives in Dallas.
“Yeah, you know, if I didn’t like it, I’d probably need to find a new profession pretty quickly,” Zalatoris said Wednesday when asked at Harbour Town about his growing fame. “It just comes with the territory.”
Zalatoris is making his 16th start this season with six top-10 finishes and 11 top-25 finishes including last week’s solo second in his Masters debut. He was 6th at the 2021 U.S. Open.
He’s embracing the attention, but it’s still surprising. It probably won’t sink in until the San Francisco native gets home to Dallas, said Zalatoris, who also bears a resemblance to actor Owen Wilson.
“It’s definitely different, going and picking up some food and people asking for autographs or pictures,” Zalatoris said.
He’s trying to stay humble and reminding himself that he did not win the Masters. Hideki Matsuyama, who is not entered in the RBC Heritage, earned the green jacket. Zalatoris finished second, by one stroke.
“I’ve felt like I’ve been getting some treatment like I won, but to me it’s funny,” Zalatoris said. “Obviously I enjoy it, interacting with the fans. They’re the ones that we play for. They’re the people that obviously are the ones that give us the job.”
He turned professional in 2018 after graduating from Wake Forest University, where he majored in psychology.
His parents are the most influential people in his life, he said. His mom was a track-and-field athlete at the University of Oregon, where she ran the 400 and 800 meters, “basically a sprinted marathon,” said Zalatoris, describing his mother as the toughest person he knows.
“There’s no quit in that woman, and obviously I think I got a little bit of her genes,” he said.
Zalatoris may be getting attention outside the ropes, but it’s his work on the golf course that’s turning heads, particularly his iron play.
Zalatoris says he doesn’t go for too much, trying instead “to give himself as many looks as possible.”
“I’ve heard some comments of, ‘Wow, he’s firing at everything,’ and it’s like, I’m aiming 13 feet left of that flag and I pushed it 13 feet and it ends up being perfect, and the reality is a lot of guys do that out here, but I don’t really tend to overdo things,” he said.
And, he adds, “when the putter gets hot, the putter gets hot, just like last week,” said Zalatoris, referring to the Masters.
Fans on course Wednesday
Wednesday was the first day the public was allowed into Harbour Town Golf Links, where about 20% of the usual 135,000 fans, or roughly 27,000 mask-wearing spectators will be flowing past the gates through Sunday.
They watched players put, chip and drive and professionals teaming with amateurs on a course known for narrow, tree-lined fairways, four of the best par-three holes on the PGA Tour and an iconic 18th hole with a view of the lighthouse and Calibogue Sound.
“I can’t tell you how nice it is and what a beautiful day we’ve got,” said Rusty MacDonald of Columbia, a retired schools superintendent who was seated on a tiny chair just behind the ropes, watching players on the 16th hole with his son, also named Rusty.
It had been year since the avid golf fan and player had watched a professional tournament.
Tournament director Steve Wilmot said the course is in great shape.
Harbour Town, one of the shortest courses on the PGA tour, is known as a shot maker’s course that doesn’t require 300-yard tee shots.
“That’s why anybody can win this tournament,” Wilmot said.
His No. 1 concern in putting on the tournament during a pandemic is the health of spectators, and mask requirements are being enforced. Players and tournament officials were tested, and the clubhouse is a “bubble” with restrictions on who can enter.
Adam Sandler watching
“Happy Gilmore” is a 1996 sports comedy about a frustrated hockey player who uses his aggression in a new sport, golf, including taking running starts on drives off the tees, but Zalatoris says his strong iron play suits the Harbour Town course, which he adds is in phenomenal shape.
“Have fun young man,” Sandler tweeted at Zalatoris during the Masters. “Mr. Gilmore is watching you and very proud.”
Zalatoris wasn’t fazed by the attention from Sandler, the former “Saturday Night Live” performer.
“If you’re ever in need of a caddie again let me know,” Zalatoris tweeted in response. “I’ll be better this time. I’m always available for you, Mr. Gilmore.”
Zalatoris had the words, “Mr. Gilmore, I’m your caddy,” carved into the bottom of one of his wedges. “Wow, Owen Wilson,” reads the bottom of another.
He’s clearly having fun on and off the course.
“Hey, this is entertainment,” Zalatoris said. “This is, obviously, the really fun side of the job — yeah, trust me, a year ago if you said that Adam Sandler was going to send out a tweet about me, I would have thought you were on something.”