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May 18, 2021

Will Zalatoris

Kiawah Island, South Carolina, USA

The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, and welcome back to the 2021 PGA Championship here at the Ocean Course, Kiawah Island, South Carolina. We are happy really to be joined by Will Zalatoris, who is currently ranked No. 30 in the Official World Golf Rankings, and he's playing in this PGA Championship for the first time.

Will, terrific effort and push there at Augusta a month ago.


THE MODERATOR: At some point soon thereafter you probably turned your sights and hopefully are a little bit settled here on what's going to happen here. Since you've never played in it before, what was your impression of what the PGA Championship would be and what are you seeing out here, and has it lived up to what you were thinking leading in?

WILL ZALATORIS: Yeah, I've really enjoyed -- I came out here a couple weeks ago, really enjoyed it. Those last six holes are all you want. Kind of the PGA Championship has always been one that I think has -- at least for me has actually meant a lot in terms of David Price is my longtime mentor and I've worked with him basically since I was 11 years old. He was a head pro at Bent Tree Country Club for 30 years; he was the chairman of the rules committee for PGA of America and has been highly involved with the PGA Championship and Ryder Cups.

You know, I think this was -- he's walked with the last group a lot of years, so hearing stories of guys playing, almost kind of felt like I knew more about this tournament than I did of the other three majors just because of Mr. Price.

A little bit of kind of appreciation for him. Obviously the guy means a lot to me, but obviously kind of hearing the stories through the years of all the guys, and Rory winning here and all the other tournaments that at least he's told me about, I remember a lot of really cool stories.

Q. Augusta was a big debut for you for the majors. How does this feel different? Is this more like real for a player? This is the 100 best players in the world, tough conditions, a lot of wind.

WILL ZALATORIS: Yeah, I think the reason why I've played so well in the majors is it just feels the same as all the other tournaments. You know, the golf courses are obviously way harder than regular tournaments, and harder golf courses tend to favor me since my ball-striking is the best part of my game.

Even though I'm hitting 3- and 4-irons into basically the last five or six holes, that favors me because I hit it far, and that means guys are hitting more club than me.

I think if anything, it's the same ol' same ol', keep on doing what we're doing. I kind of had a little bit of a rough couple weeks, specifically on and around the greens, but I think I really turned the corner this week with Josh.

It's exciting. It's a brutal golf course. You've got to hit it good. There's no faking it around this place. Every aspect of your game has to be on.

Q. So probably the older guys and the more mature guys plan their season around the majors, practice for the majors, do things around the majors. I think you are full of energy, and it looks like it is not your case, that you play the majors like you play anything.

WILL ZALATORIS: Yeah, I mean, I definitely -- thankfully now I'm kind of able to plan my schedule a little bit. Last week was absolutely prepping for this week. We made some -- kind of the stuff we were working on, if this was a major we'd probably slap a Band-Aid on it and make it work and go from there, but last week was making some pretty drastic changes because I had kind of gotten into some bad habits after Augusta and had gotten lazy in my posture and full swing and actually carried into my putting, too.

We made some pretty drastic changes, so absolutely. I've been prepping for this week for the last couple weeks.

Q. A lot of talk this week about the Ryder Cup. I know this would be a huge thing for you, but is that something in your sights, maybe making the team this year?

WILL ZALATORIS: Yeah, I met Captain Steve Stricker yesterday, played nine holes with him, and that was actually the first time I had gotten to spend some time with him. It's definitely on the radar.

You know, nine months ago I wasn't even thinking I was going to be on the PGA TOUR, let alone playing in a U.S. Open and leading me to get to this point. I think that's part of the reason why I'm not looking too far ahead, is just because 10 months ago I thought I was going to have to spend two years on the Korn Ferry TOUR. 10 months ago I thought I was going to make sneak in, maybe get special temporary status, and then finished second in a major a few months ago.

It's been a wild run, so it's been a great lesson to realize that -- don't get too far ahead of myself.

Q. Do you think you were going well and something went wrong and you had to start from scratch?

WILL ZALATORIS: Yeah, I mean, I think if anything -- I think really the last few months I've been able to enjoy this ride just because I know how -- I've spent a lot of time doing Mondays on Korn Ferry TOUR events. After a little while you think you may not get to this point.

So I think it gives you a better appreciation, especially when things are going well.

Q. You're obviously playing with Jordan, which is a familiar grouping. He was just asked in here when he thought he'd turned the corner. And you play so much golf with him back home, I was just wondering when you thought he turned the corner. As a follow-up to that, what's your most unforgettable time playing golf together back home?

WILL ZALATORIS: Yeah, I think the turning the corner part, I've really just started to see him, I guess, do Jordan things, the disgusting chip-ins, the 40-footers that when you're playing against him they're awful, when you're playing with him they're the best thing on earth, or at least when he's on your team.

But the guy, I mean, he worked so hard at it for a year and a half, just hours and hours of beating golf balls.

Obviously we get to see what goes on here, but I'm fortunate enough to see what goes on back home, and there's nobody that works harder than him. It was just a matter of time. Even at points where we thought out here where, Oh, he's really in a slump, he's lost, he just put his nose down and went back to work.

I think really probably six or seven months ago is when he started doing some Jordan things again. Probably one of the more memorable ones -- I've told the story about when he shot 63 at my Bent Tree, at my home club, when he was 14, but one of the more memorable ones was actually playing a game out at Dallas National, and we were on a short par-3, No. 13, and he pull hooks an iron shot left of the cart path and a couple buddies -- I'm on a team that's on the green and his partner is Martin Flores and he's short right and we're thinking, We've got this in the bag, and Jordan hits this chip shot that skips through the rough, goes up, checks on the hill, then basically just goes Mach3 and just slams into the back of the hole and goes in.

Then he follows it up with like a 30- or 40-footer on the next hole. It's just like, this is just Jordan. I think to me -- I'd seen it for the few months leading up to that, but that was like the most -- that was when I knew, Okay, he's back.

It's been fun to see. The guy has been a role model since I was nine. He's won everything it felt like at that age. He set the bar really for Scottie and I in junior golf, so we owe him a lot of credit for our success.

Q. How long ago was that match?

WILL ZALATORIS: Probably three or four months ago.

Q. When he started winning those majors in '15 and a little bit beyond that, you're happy for him obviously because you have a relationship, but are you guys high fiving him as he goes down 17th and 18th holes with the lead or a chance to win? That must really galvanize and activate everybody back in Dallas.

WILL ZALATORIS: Yeah, for sure. There's no way to describe it besides he's probably the -- you can go back to Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan. He's the most influential golfer in DFW.

I remember when he won the Masters, it was kind of like -- at least I think for Scottie and I, it was definitely a moment where it was super motivating because we had competed against him for 10 years, and now he's at the peak of all peaks, and we've played against him, we've beaten him a few times, to think, Hey, we can do this. This is an attainable goal.

So that even goes with like a U.S. Junior. He wins it, Scottie wins it, I win it. I think he's definitely been a role model and a guy who's set the bar at least for Scottie and I specifically in DFW, let alone a lot of golfers.

Q. Talking about DFW, have you been able to see what's going on with the PGA of America there? Have you visited the golf courses at Frisco and what it's going to mean for the region?

WILL ZALATORIS: Yeah, I haven't gotten up there yet, but I'm super excited to see it. Obviously I know Gil Hanse is doing the championship course. It's going to be really fun to see. I've heard only really wonderful things from a lot of the pros that have gone up and seen it, and I've seen some pictures that I couldn't believe it was in Dallas. A couple of the shots -- or a couple of the holes that I saw, at least in pictures, it looks immaculate.

I'm excited. It's going to be a really big project. It's going to help grow the game. It couldn't happen at a better place than DFW where golf is so strong right now. It's only going to get stronger.

Q. Do you feel any different now or better than when you went to Augusta a month ago at the beginning of the week? You didn't know you were going to finish second. I would guess your game felt pretty good. Where does that feeling leading into the championship compare to what you're feeling leading into this championship?

WILL ZALATORIS: Yeah, you know, going into Augusta everything really felt like it was clicking. I spent a lot of time with Josh Gregory and Troy Denton. I took a week off just getting ready for the tournament, and everything was really clicking.

I'll be honest, the last couple weeks have definitely been a grind, but I think it's a take one step back, take two steps forward type of thing.

I sat down with Josh a couple years ago and said, I want to understand my golf game better. I want to make these fixes where as opposed to missing cuts I make a cut and I'm able to turn that into a top 10. That's why I did well on the Korn Ferry TOUR, and I think that's what we're trying to trend towards now is becoming a little bit more consistent.

How we become more consistent is understanding my habits a little bit more in depth, and I think that's part of the reason why I've had so many top 20s is I understand my fixes. I'm getting closer. I think that these last couple weeks we found a couple new things that we really haven't talked about, so it's an exciting time for me.

Q. You cut your hair since we last saw you at the majors, at least on the major tour, if you will. Is that a conscious decision or was it just time for a cut?

WILL ZALATORIS: It was time for a cut. It was getting a little hot. In Dallas the summertime having that long hair is not really ideal. But I kind of do that every winter. I'll kind of grow it out a little bit. Don't worry, it's not going anywhere, but especially if I have to live up to being Happy Gilmore's caddie, I think I need to fulfill that role in the off-season a little bit.

Q. Just curious, you've kind of had a meteoric rise similar to what Collin Morikawa had, and he parlayed that into the PGA Championship last year. Have you thought about that at all, and how much of a transition was it to get used to doing stuff like this when you didn't have to do it before?

WILL ZALATORIS: Yeah, I mean, watching Collin be -- we've always joked about this on the Walker Cup team, that when Collin gets in his we call it Blackout Collin where he just goes on tears, winning amateurs by seven and eight and does things like hitting drivers under the gun to eight feet or whatever he did last year at Harding Park.

I've said this about all the other guys on that team, as well, is that when they were successful, it only gave the rest of us more belief that we could attain whatever goal that we wanted to achieve. Watching Cameron win very quickly, both on Korn Ferry -- Cameron Champ on Korn Ferry and PGA TOUR immediately, Scottie has obviously been crazy successful, margin of error is out here. We've got seven out of the ten Walker Cuppers on the PGA TOUR from the 2017 Walker Cup. It's fun to see these guys, and I think if anything, when we get paired together, I think it's funny because we see them as feature groups where you put Collin and these guys together.

It's like, we were the same goofballs in college that were playing on a Walker Cup team four years ago. I think if anything it actually kind of takes the pressure off.

THE MODERATOR: Will, we appreciate you coming by. Best of luck to you all week long, and play well.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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