‘How can you argue we’re underpaid?’: Will Zalatoris baffled by LIV cash craze

Will Zalatoris is surprised by the obsession around LIV Golf's 'not life-changing' payouts.

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Is Will Zalatoris underpaid? It depends on who you ask.

The folks at LIV Golf would surely have you believe he is. The Saudi-backed upstart league has joined the ranks of professional golf with a rallying cry based primarily upon pay equity for the game’s best players. The top players, the argument goes, have been underpaid and undervalued for years, propping up a wasteful PGA Tour and an overpaid class of fringe professionals.

The PGA Tour, naturally, disagrees with LIV’s assessment. Zalatoris, the Tour argues, is fairly compensated for his performance, his salary driven by market factors untethered to the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia. Should he wish to make more on the PGA Tour, Zalatoris needs only to perform better.

But what does Will Zalatoris think? Is he underpaid? The answer, it seems, is even simpler than the one laid out by either league. It runs only two letters in length.

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“I’ve never done this for money. Ever,” Zalatoris said in an interview with Graham Bensinger released earlier this week. “If the U.S. Open had a $100,000 purse, I’d still show up to the U.S. Open. I don’t know what it was this year, $17 million or something outrageous. I’m in this to go win a major, that’s my career goal. There’s no amount of money I would give to trade that for a trophy. There’s no amount of money that could make me give up on my dreams. Especially with the amount of silver medals I’ve got hanging around my house now, I’ll happily trade them all in for one win.”

No, Zalatoris says, he does not think he’s underpaid. In fact, if he can speak for the remainder of professional golf, he would go out on a limb to say they aren’t underpaid either.

“The money that these guys are given right now, it’s just more money. It’s not life-changing money, it’s just more,” he said. “There’s a difference in that level. I couldn’t be happier with what’s going to happen with the Tour this year. We’ve looked at the projections and in 2025, you could make $3 million and still lose your card. How can you argue we’re still underpaid?”

The problem with the money obsession, in Zalatoris’ view, is that more of it will not materially change his life. At least, not at the sums LIV is offering.

“I get that maybe proportionally, sure, we can always fight for bigger purses,” he said. “That’s why people ask me, ‘Shouldn’t you be a prime candidate to go to LIV because of the situation you had your first year on the PGA Tour, when you couldn’t be a part of the FedEx Cup Playoffs?’ I said, ‘guys, I haven’t won yet, and I’ve made over $10 million on Tour.’ If I sat there and said I feel like I’m under-compensated as a PGA Tour pro, what does that say about me?”

Yes, $25 million would change his life for the better, but it would be worth the risk of losing out on the major championships? Would it be worth jeopardizing his own legacy?

No, it would not be worth those things to Will Zalatoris. Though he surely understands why it may be worth it to a different class of professionals.

“If you look at the guys that have gone, and I’ve got no problem with the guys going, everyone can make their own decisions, no disrespect to them at all,” he said. “A lot of them are older or they’ve been injured or they’ve been on the road for 20-plus years and they don’t want to do it anymore. They just want to get a nice nest egg and call it quits.”

That, he says, is the primary difference between the two leagues. A little bit of money, and a big dose of reality.

Maybe he does deserve a raise.

James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is an assistant editor at GOLF, contributing stories for the website and magazine. He writes the Hot Mic, GOLF’s weekly media column, and utilizes his broadcast experience across the brand’s social media and video platforms. A 2019 graduate of Syracuse University, James — and evidently, his golf game — is still defrosting from four years in the snow. Prior to joining GOLF, James was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.