BROOKLINE, Mass. — Will Zalatoris fell short again, and this time, he thought he had it.
After missing a 14-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that would have put him in a playoff with winner Matt Fitzpatrick, Zalatoris couldn’t help but sigh as he received the silver medal for second place. After speaking to the media as screens showed Fitzpatrick lifting the trophy, Zalatoris left with a forced smile. He had to leave the stage to let the champion pass.
“This one, in particular, hurts quite a bit,” said Zalatoris, who now has six top-10 finishes in nine major races, including three second-place finishes. “I’m three shots away from practically being… having a shot at being a three-time Grand Slam champion. A bounce here or there.”
The 25-year-old entered the US Open on Sunday without a major win or a PGA Tour victory, but with a lot of confidence. He had said on Saturday that his recent runner-up finish to Justin Thomas at this year’s PGA Championship had given him the belief that he could be one of the best players in the world. But faith couldn’t push his putt a few inches closer to the hole.
“With about six feet to go, I thought I had it,” Zalatoris said of his putt. “It hurts, obviously. To have three finalists so far in my major league career.”
Zalatoris entered Sunday tied for the lead with Fitzpatrick. Zalatoris struggled early on, making two bogeys in the first five holes before his ever-elusive putter caught fire. He birdied four of the next six holes and, at one point, had a two-shot lead over Fitzpatrick.
“I fought like crazy,” Zalatoris said, calling his driving during the week “appalling” and adding that his hip was bothering him. The 2021 Masters runner-up’s usual problems have come with his putter, but as he said with a smile on Sunday, his putt was fine.
“I’m sure all the assholes on Instagram will say it has something to do with my left wrist flexing,” Zalatoris said of the 18th putt. “I promise you, it has nothing to do with it.”
Both of Zalatoris’ costly errors came on the back nine. On the 12th hole, he missed the fairway and had to punch, leading to a two-putt bogey. On the 15th, he lost the street again. Fitzpatrick did too, but he missed so much that he had a better lie than Zalatoris, who was raw. Fitzpatrick birdied. Zalatoris bogeyed. The advantage was then two in favor of Fitzpatrick.
On the par 3 of the 16th, Zalatoris made a birdie to sit out. But when Fitzpatrick saved his bunker-finding miss with a perfect iron shot on the 18th green, the pressure was back on Zalatoris, who later called Fitzpatrick’s approach shot “gutsy” and “1 in 20.”
“I knew very well that Will was going to hit him close,” Fitzpatrick said. “He is one of the best focus players on the tour.”
Zalatoris hit him just inside 15 feet. Fitzpatrick put two puts together, so Zalatoris knew what he had to do. When he hit the ball and watched it go through the hole without falling, it was Zalatoris who fell to his knees in agony. The champion was determined.
“I’ve already been asked, how nervous were you on the 18th putt?” Zalatoris said. “It’s like he has nothing to lose. Either he gets in or he doesn’t get in.”
Even after a tough loss, Zalatoris projected confidence and said he has the recipe for winning. With less than a month until the next major, the Open Championship at St. Andrews, Zalatoris said he’s glad to be back at it again soon.
“I’m not happy with finishing second,” he said. “Obviously I’m trying to do it. The comfort level is there, especially now that I know I can do this. I just have to keep waiting my turn.”