Will Zalatoris named Rookie of the Year

Former Demon Deacon receives major honor despite beginning the season without Tour status


The 2020-21 season has catapulted Will Zalatoris’ career.

Christina Denovio, Sports Editor

Wake Forest alum Will Zalatoris has been voted PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, making him the first player in two decades to receive the honor without being a full PGA Tour member. The last golfer to win the award as a special temporary member of the tour was Charles Howell III in 2001.

The Wake Forest class of 2018 graduate was the heavy favorite for the title. Despite that fact, he began the 2020-21 golf season without PGA Tour status.

In a way, Zalatoris has the COVID-19 pandemic to thank for his burst onto the scene. In 2020, he showed his skills at the Korn Ferry Tour, where he tied for sixth place and earned a spot in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. He also finished tied for eighth place at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.

Zalatoris was given the opportunity to compete in the U.S. Open because of a new one-time rule that stated, due to the absence of open qualifying, a certain number of Korn Ferry players would be allowed to participate in the major tournament.

Shortly thereafter, Zalatoris became a special, temporary member to the PGA Tour in November. He finished the season with eight top-10s and 14 top-25 finishes in 25 starts. One of his most impressive accomplishments includes earning second place at Augusta National in the Masters won by Hideki Matsuyama.

While there weren’t as many candidates for rookie of the year as usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Zalatoris still had to beat out a few tough competitors, including the South African Garrick Higgo, who won the Palmetto Championship at Congaree in May. The only other rookie on Tour apart from Zalatoris and Higgo was Rafael Campos.

Because he had not begun the season as a full PGA Tour member, Zalatoris was not eligible for the FedEx Cup Playoffs, which were won by an American, Patrick Cantlay. On missing the tournament, Zalatoris told Golf Digest, “I watched Patrick [Cantlay] and Bryson [Dechambeau] duke it out and I watched the last day of East Lake. Obviously, I’d really felt that, once I got a good recipe with my back to be able to perform, I knew I was playing really nice golf and would’ve loved to been there.”

Regardless, this past season has gone quite well for the 25-year-old.

When asked how it felt to be a Rookie of the Year winner, the Dallas, Texas native told Golf Digest, “I went to Wake Forest on the Arnold Palmer Scholarship, so winning an award with Mr. Palmer’s name on it is not lost on me. If you’d have told me I’d be PGA Tour rookie of the year for 2021 when, in April 2020 it looked like I was going to have to spend two years on the Korn Ferry Tour, well that’s a pretty cool spot to be in.”

Winning the award means Zalatoris joins an impressive group of golfers, in- including big names such as Jordan Speith (2013 winner), Ricky Fowler (2010 winner) and Tiger Woods (1996 winner).

Looking towards the future, Zalatoris said his focus is on “looking at the macro instead of the micro.” He continued: “Instead of trying to make the playoffs, trying to make the Ryder Cup, [I want to] just go out and get better at golf. That’s the only thing I can control.”