Junior Boys

Zalatoris embraces playing U.S. Junior in Texas

After five years, Will Zalatoris is finally getting to play in a U.S. Junior Amateur in his home state of Texas – and the Plano native (pictured during the 2011 Junior PGA Championship) is ready to take things one step at a time as he attempts to bring home the title this week in the Texas summer heat.
After five years, Will Zalatoris is finally getting to play in a U.S. Junior Amateur in his home state of Texas – and the Plano native (pictured during the 2011 Junior PGA Championship) is ready to take things one step at a time as he attempts to bring home the title this week in the Texas summer heat. ( Photo Courtesy of PGA of America )

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

THE WOODLANDS, Texas –– If there was one player who didn't mind having to brave the extreme heat Monday at The Club at Carlton Woods, it was Will Zalatoris.

Like everyone else, the 17-year-old and five-time U.S. Junior Amateur participant fought to stay hydrated as temperatures soared above 100 degrees in The Woodlands, about 30 minutes north of Houston. But after playing four previous U.S. Juniors in cooler climates – Stratham, N.H.; Bremerton, Wash.; Ada, Mich.; and Bedminster, N.J. – and far away from his hometown of Plano, Texas, Zalatoris is glad to finally be playing in a U.S. Junior on his home turf.

“This weather, it’s something I practice in every day,” said Zalatoris, who shot 1-under 71 in Monday’s first round of stroke play on Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course.

“When I hear guys griping about it, I say, ‘Well, come enjoy a 12-hour practice session with me up in Dallas.’ I think everyone would want to be in 75 (degrees) and sunny, but it’s something I’m used to. I call this home.”

Zalatoris has enjoyed a great stretch of golf this summer, winning a pair of big amateur events in hot climates. He captured the Texas Amateur in June at Brook Hollow Golf Club in Dallas, and then won the Trans-Mississippi Championship earlier this month at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.

“It’s been fun,” said Zalatoris, an incoming freshman at Wake Forest. “I’ve just taken it one step at a time, and tried not to look too far ahead.”

That’s a mindset Zalatoris hopes will work again for him this week.

In four previous U.S. Junior starts, he missed out on match play just once, in 2009. But he’s only gotten past the Round of 64 once, in 2011, when he advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to Chelso Barrett, the eventual runner-up to winner Jordan Spieth.

Zalatoris failed to qualify for last year’s U.S. Junior in Truckee, Calif., otherwise he’d be making his sixth U.S. Junior start. And he admitted it’s been two years since he’s played competitive match play.

Still, the U.S. Junior veteran knows staying patient is the name of the game in these types of formats.

“You can’t win it today, and you can’t win it tomorrow . . . you have to wait until Saturday,” said Zalatoris, who made three birdies and a double bogey in Monday’s first round. “Hopefully, it’s a long week.”

The U.S. Junior champion typically earns an exemption into that year’s U.S. Amateur. Zalatoris won’t have to worry about that after qualifying for his second U.S. Amateur last week.

To whit: Kelly Kraft, another Texan, won the Texas Amateur and Trans-Miss before winning the U.S. Amateur in 2011. Oh, and the 2014 U.S. Amateur will be played next month near Atlanta, another hot climate.

Asked if he was excited to be competing at Atlanta Athletic Club next month, Zalatoris smiled.

“Yeah,” he said, “but I’d love to put my name on that trophy this week.”

One step at a time, indeed.