Will Zalatoris was named Rookie of the Year for the 2020-21 PGA Tour on Monday, after a spectacular first full year of climbing off the Korn Ferry Tour in late 2020 to someday create a real prospect of the 2021 U.S. Ryder Cup team. Zalatoris beat South African Garrick Higgo for the award, which was chosen by other PGA Tour professionals.
Despite not winning a tournament, Zalatoris still had a monster season after starting it with no status on the PGA Tour. His star power began last September at the US Open, which he won by playing on the Korn Ferry Tour, where he was successful. His top 10 at Winged Foot right at the start of the 2020-21 PGA Tour season was a launch pad. He closed 2020 with two more top 10s on the PGA Tour and suspended a temporary special membership in the Bermuda Championship in November, which gave him unlimited sponsorship waivers, even though he did not have status as an official member of the tour (he could only get that earn by winning a tournament).
Zalatoris continued the good game in 2021 with top 10 placements at the Farmers Insurance Open and Arnold Palmer Invitational and then almost won the Masters. That was his second of three top 10s in the majors that year (he was also top 10 in the PGA Championship), and he added another in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
It was a meteoric rise – Zalatoris rose from 672th in the official golf world rankings at the end of 2019 to 59th at the end of 2020 to the top 30 after this year’s PGA championship – but not one that was inevitably unexpected.
“I know he’s a very confident person,” said Jordan Spieth, PGA Tour Rookie of the Year 2013, earlier this year. “We’ve played a lot together over the weeks, we’ve played a lot of golf in Dallas. We play a lot with … Tony Romo and we have other pros around and we have some really good games so it hasn’t been anything surprising the last few years after watching him at home week after week and the game was clearly good enough to keep going at any level of golf this is just the beginning for him. “
Oddly enough, Zalatoris was eligible as a rookie that season but never became a full-time member so he wasn’t eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs. His season ended when the PGA Tour’s regular season at the Wyndham Championship ended. To become a member, Zalatoris would have had to win a PGA Tour event, which he almost did at Augusta National (Hideki Matsuyama hit him with one blow).
“On behalf of the PGA Tour, I would like to congratulate Will Zalatoris on being named PGA Tour Rookie of the Year 2021 by members of the Tour,” said PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan in a statement. “Will’s success, despite not having a PGA Tour membership at the beginning of the 2020/21 season, is a testament not only to his skills but also to his hard work and attitude.”
Zalatoris is now officially a member of the PGA Tour, which kicks off the 2021-22 PGA Tour season, and will play his first tournament at the Fortinet Championship in Napa this week.