Notebook: Zalatoris Extends Texas’ Dominance at U.S. Junior


Texas Golf Association First Vice President Jim Brown (right) was at The Club at Carlton Woods to see Will Zalatoris add his name to the U.S. Junior Amateur trophy. (USGA/Jonathan Ernst)
By Joey Flyntz, USGA
July 26, 2014

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Hunter Mahan. Cory Whitsett. Jordan Spieth. Scottie Scheffler. All excellent players with two things in common – they’re all U.S. Junior Amateur champions and they’re all from Texas.

Zalatoris, 17, of Plano, joined that club with Saturday’s 5-and-3 triumph over Davis Riley at the Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course.

With Zalatoris’ victory, Texas has produced five of the past eight U.S. Junior champions, with Spieth winning twice (2009 and 2011). Zalatoris is the first to win on Texas soil.

The U.S. Junior marked the summer’s second premier win on home turf for Zalatoris, as he won the Texas State Amateur in Dallas in June. A promise was made following that tournament, and it was fulfilled on Saturday.

Jim Brown, a volunteer referee and 1st vice president of the Texas Golf Association’s board of directors, promised Zalatoris he would be in attendance if he advanced to the U.S. Junior final. On Saturday morning, he woke up early and made the four-hour trip from Dallas.

“That really meant a lot to me,” Zalatoris said. “He’s been the starter on the first tee in juniors since I was 10 years old.”

As far as the success of junior golf in Texas, Brown credits the teaching programs with the North Texas PGA, South Texas PGA, Texas Golf Association and Houston Golf Association, as well as the Legends Junior Tour.

Following Zalatoris’ Texas Amateur victory, Texas Golf Association Executive Director Rob Addington made a simple proclamation.

“I’ll quote Mr. Addington when he said, ‘Junior golf is alive and well in Texas.’”

The U.S. Junior record book certainly supports that claim.

Families Feel Championship Stress In Different Ways

A USGA championship on the line, 36 holes of match play to decide it, scorching Houston heat and humidity. A recipe for high-pressure situations.

William Zalatoris and Davis Riley both had sizable galleries following the action during Zalatoris’ 5-and-3 victory in the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship Saturday at The Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course. Most of the family and friends dealt with the stress in their own way.

Riley’s mother, Kim, and sister, Caroline, stuck together, usually following the action from up close. Riley’s father, David, however, preferred to walk way behind the gallery.

“I’m definitely more stressed out than he is,” said David of his son, Davis.

Zalatoris’ mother, often seen ahead of the majority of the gallery, expressed no such nerves.

“I’m really not nervous,” said Cathy Zalatoris. “I’m so happy to be here. When someone works as hard as Will has to get here, I can’t be nervous. His work had paid off and that’s all you can ask.”

Also among Zalatoris’ gallery was his instructor at Bent Tree Country Club in Dallas, David Price, a longtime PGA of America Rules official who called the memorable penalty on Dustin Johnson for grounding his club in a bunker at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

Price, who has been around many a great golfer, echoed Cathy’s sentiment and calm demeanor.

“Will has an absolutely relentless work ethic,” said Price. “I’m proud to see him get here. He really struggled with his putter for about a year and a half, went to a new grip and turned it around really quickly. My lessons with him aren’t lessons so much anymore as they are sharing his experiences.”

Nervous and calm alike, the relationship between rooting interests mirrored that of the competitors themselves – respectful and appreciative, with plenty of mingling and congratulating.

Not to say Zalatoris didn’t have a home-field advantage.

“Being in the home state, I had a lot of friends around me,” Zalatoris said. “It was a lot of fun when I would make a birdie and I would hear the voices cheering. It was a lot of fun this week.”

Those birdie cheers paled in comparison to Zalatoris’ eagle on the par-4 14th, where he holed out from 119 yards with a 56-degree wedge. Zalatoris fans and Riley fans alike were transformed simply into fans of great golf shots.

Riley Falls Short of Matching Straub’s Feat

Davis Riley’s 5-and-3 defeat to William Zalatoris in the final match of the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship means Tim Straub is still the last player to win the championship after finishing runner-up the previous year.

After losing 3 and 2 to Scottie Scheffler last year at Martis Camp Club in Truckee, Calif., Riley played great golf on Saturday at The Club at Carlton Woods’ Nicklaus Course. Zalatoris played other-worldly golf.

Straub finished runner-up in 1982 to Rick Marik, 4 and 3, at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., then bounced back with a 1-up win over John Mahon in 1983 at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa.

“I remember the first year, I was young, only 15, so I was just excited to get to the finals,” said Straub, now the head men’s golf coach at Davidson (N.C.) College. “The next year, I knew I was really playing well and had a good chance if things went the right way. I felt I had as good a chance to win as anyone.”

Mason Rudolph was the first player in U.S. Junior history to improve from runner-up to champion the next year when he defeated Charles Beville, 2 and 1, in 1950 at Denver (Colo.) Country Club.

Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at jflyntz@usga.org.

 

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