Will Zalatoris advances at Riviera with help from mentor, caddie

USGA

Will Zalatoris advances at Riviera with help from mentor, caddie

Amateur

Will Zalatoris advances at Riviera with help from mentor, caddie

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. – Three years ago, Scott Fawcett was preparing to compete in the 2014 Texas State Amateur when a cortisone shot he received in his right elbow essentially paralyzed his arm, forcing him to withdraw from the tournament.

So Fawcett called up a 17-year-old local junior named Will Zalatoris from his home club, Bent Tree Country Club in Dallas, and offered to caddie for Zalatoris in the event. Fawcett had but just one request.

“I’m like, ‘Hey I just created DECADE (a course management system developed by Fawcett), for my own game. Let me caddie for you and see if it works,'” Fawcett said.

Said Zalatoris: “I was the DECADE guinea pig. … He was just teaching me basically how to play golf. He was trying to get me to out-execute everybody.”

Zalatoris did, and he ended up winning the event. Fawcett stayed on the bag, too, and Zalatoris followed with victories at the Trans-Miss Championship and U.S. Junior Amateur. It was a summer to remember for both Zalatoris and Fawcett.

Fast forward to Wednesday at Riviera Country Club and there Zalatoris was, competing in match play at the U.S. Amateur for the fourth year in a row. And there Fawcett was, on the bag, as Zalatoris took on another U.S. Junior champ, Philip Barbaree (2015), in the Round of 64 – and won on the 18th hole by sinking a 35-footer for birdie to advance, 1 up.

Fawcett still remembers Zalatoris’ heroic eagle hole-out to help Zalatoris clinch his U.S. Junior title over Davis Riley at The Club at Carlton Woods in 2014. It wasn’t quite deja vu against Barbaree on Wednesday, but Zalatoris still provided plenty of clutch shots, even before that closing birdie.

The first one came at the par-4 eighth hole when Zalatoris stuffed a wedge shot from near the lip of a fairway bunker to a few inches. He made birdie to square the match back up, only to have Barbaree get the hole right back at the par-4 ninth.

“Losing nine, I really was kind of down in the dumps a little bit and Scott gave me a kick in the rear,” Zalatoris said.

On the next hole, the famed drivable par-4 10th, Zalatoris found the right greenside bunker and hit over the green with his second shot. But then he chipped in for birdie to win the hole. Two holes later, Zalatoris chipped in for birdie again.

“What’s funny is probably the two worst chips he hit were the two that went in,” Fawcett said.

Birthday presents, one could call them. After all, Zalatoris celebrated his 21st birthday on Wednesday.

“I didn’t have my best stuff with my ballstriking,” Zalatoris said. “Winning tournaments and winning matches, you have to have a lot of luck; and obviously today I had a lot of luck.

“It was really up and down. Scott really rode me to stay mellow, stay even-keeled. He really helped me out today.”

Will Zalatoris and caddie Scott Fawcett pose for a photo after Zalatoris’ victory at the 2014 U.S. Junior Amateur. (Brentley Romine/Golfweek)

Fawcett, 44, has been doing as much for quite some time now, ever since a 9-year-old Zalatoris showed up next to him on the range one day at Bent Tree.

“I was just an annoying 9-year-old,” Zalatoris said. “I wanted to be around good players. I didn’t know any better. I just walked up to him and started hitting balls next to him. He was nice enough to just kind of deal with me.”

When Zalatoris missed the cut in his first ever U.S. Junior start at 12 years old, Fawcett, who was playing on the Web.com Tour at the time, was the first person to text him. Through the years, Fawcett has continued to mentor Zalatoris while also caddying for him in big events (he was on the bag when Zalatoris won the 2016 Northern Trust Collegiate Showcase at Riviera; the win earned Zalatoris a spot in the Tour event) and balancing his ever-growing work with DECADE.

“His golf swing right now is the same golf swing he’s had since he was 9,” Fawcett said.

It’s just everything else that has evolved with Fawcett’s influence as both a father- and brother-like figure.

“I probably give him more of a hard time than a father would or should,” Fawcett said.

Zalatoris, though, gives it right back: “He jokingly calls me his little brother, but I call him a father figure … just to make him feel old.”

In Thursday’s Round of 32, Zalatoris will play Canada’s Hugo Bernard. Zalatoris is determined to make a deep match-play run, both because he really wants to win this championship and also because he really wants to make the U.S. Walker Cup team, too. (Zalatoris had an emergency appendectomy in 2015 that hurt his chances to make the team that year.)

“I couldn’t imagine a better pick than him for that last spot or two,” Fawcett said.

Fawcett didn’t get Zalatoris anything for his birthday yet. At least nothing that can be wrapped. Truth is, though, Fawcett has given much to that once-annoying kid that he first met 12 years ago.

“I do this because I love this kid,” Fawcett said, “and I love helping him and I think he’s really good.”

Three years ago, Zalatoris and Fawcett posed together on the 15th green at Carlton Woods with the U.S. Junior Amateur trophy. Both agree it’s time for a new photo, this time with another USGA trophy, the Havemeyer.

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