Will Zalatoris, who isn’t a PGA Tour member, wins PGA Tour Rookie of the Year

will zalatoris celebrates masters

Will Zalatoris joined impressive company in claiming the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year honors.

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Well, this is awkward.

Will Zalatoris, the 25-year-old wunderkind who recorded eight top-10 finishes this past season, was named the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year for 2020-21, joining the likes of Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele and Rickie Fowler in winning the award. Well … that’s not the awkward part. Zalatoris has unquestionably been the best rookie on Tour ever since arriving in the fall of 2020. Through just five major championship starts, he’s claimed top-10 finishes in all but one major, punctuated by a runner-up finish at the Masters in April. There’s no question about it: this season was an emphatic arrival for one of the game’s youngest stars.

Well, except for the fact that he hasn’t quite officially arrived, because Zalatoris doesn’t yet have full-time PGA Tour status. Yes, you read that correctly, Will Zalatoris was named Rookie of the Year for an organization in which he does not *technically* belong.

Of course, Zalatoris most certainly does belong on the PGA Tour in a full-time capacity. He made 21 of his first 24 cuts, and finished in the top-25 in 14 of his first 24 starts. He ranks in the top 10 on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green and strokes gained: approach. He played so well, the Tour even gave him a special temporary exemption in order to compete at the highest level on a consistent basis.

Why Will Zalatoris, ranked 29th in the world, hasn’t qualified for the FedEx Cup Playoffs
By: Jessica Marksbury

But for all of his success, one thing remained elusive for Big Z in 2021: a victory. A win in any PGA Tour event would have granted him automatic full status on Tour, and would have given him a slot in this year’s FedEx Cup Playoffs. However, despite his strong performance (and status as one of the top 30 players in the world, by Official World Golf Ranking), Zalatoris failed to notch a victory, which left him without full status as the season ended, and out of the Playoffs. Even worse, Zalatoris said, was that his lacking status might have played a role in his eventually being left off the U.S. Ryder Cup roster.

“The part where I’m going to be separated from other guys is, all of those guys are going to be playing in the playoffs and I’m not,” he told GOLF.com before Steve Stricker’s final captain’s selections rendered him off the U.S. team. “I put that as the majority of the reason why I’m on the outside looking in, because some of these guys are going to be able to earn their way in. And I’m not going to have an opportunity to do that. So, you know, it’s a little bit, you know the chips are definitely stacked against me.”

If there’s a silver lining in this situation for Zalatoris, it’s that (with any luck) this will be the last time such a situation occurs to him. His performance in the 2020-2021 season was good enough to place him on the top-10 in the Korn Ferry Tour, where he easily claimed one of the first 25 PGA Tour cards given to the top performers on the developmental tour. Starting in the 2021-22 season, he’ll be a full-time Tour member.

Oh, and there’s one other silver lining, too: he’s the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, joining Charles Howell III as the only players ever to do so while on special temporary status.

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James Colgan

Golf.com Editor

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.