By Daniel Rapaport
Will Zalatoris. Photo by Golffile
Will Zalatoris began the 2020-21 season without PGA Tour status and finished it as the PGA Tour rookie of the year.
The tour made it official on Monday, but the 25-year-old was an overwhelming favorite to win the award for two reasons. First, there simply weren’t many candidates—due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Korn Ferry Tour combined its 2020 and 2021 campaigns into a “super season,” meaning there were no players promoted to the PGA Tour last fall. As such, Zalatoris, runner-up Garrick Higgo and Rafael Campos were the only players considered rookies for the 2020-21 season.
The second reason he was a shoe-in for this award was his remarkable play throughout the season. It began at the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Zalatoris received an exemption into the major due to one-time COVID rules that, in the absence of open qualifying, invited a number of Korn Ferry players to participate. He finished T-6 that week, which earned him a spot into the following week’s Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, where he finished T-8 and was officially off and running. By the end of the fall he’d earned special temporary membership for the remainder of the 2020-21 season.
Zalatoris’ strong play continued into 2021; all told he posted eight top-10s and 14 top-25s in 25 starts—including a solo second at Augusta National, where he finished one back of Hideki Matsuyama in his bid to become the first player to win their Masters debut since 1979.
Zalatoris was not eligible for the FedEx Cup, however, as he did not begin the season as a PGA Tour member and did not win an event, as Higgo did at the Palmetto Championship. He is the first golfer to win Rookie of the Year as a special temporary member of the tour since Charles Howell III did it in 2001.