Will Zalatoris was named 2020-21 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year on Monday after a spectacular first full year that saw him rise from out of the Korn Ferry Tour at the end of 2020 to, at one point, a real prospect to make the 2021 U.S. Ryder Cup team. Zalatoris beat out South African Garrick Higgo for the award, which was voted on by other PGA Tour pros.
Though he did not win a tournament, Zalatoris still had a monster season after starting it with no status on the PGA Tour. His star power really started gathering at the U.S. Open last September, which he got in because of his play on the Korn Ferry Tour, where he had been thriving. His top 10 at Winged Foot at the very beginning of the 2020-21 PGA Tour season was a launching pad. He closed out 2020 with two more top 10s on the PGA Tour and locked up special temporary membership at the Bermuda Championship in November, which provided him with unlimited sponsor exemptions, although no status as an official member of the Tour (he could only earn that by winning a tournament).
Zalatoris continued the good play in 2021 with top 10s at the Farmers Insurance Open and Arnold Palmer Invitational, and then he nearly won the Masters. That was his second of three top 10s at the majors this year (he also finished top 10 at the PGA Championship), and he added one more at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
It has been a meteoric rise -- Zalatoris went from No. 672 in the Official World Golf Rankings at the end of 2019 to No. 59 at the end of 2020 to inside the top 30 after this year's PGA Championship -- but not one that was necessarily unexpected.
"I know he's a very confident individual," said 2013 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, Jordan Spieth earlier this year. "We have been playing, we played quite a bit of golf in Dallas together, actually, throughout the weeks. We play a lot with ... Tony Romo, and we get other pros in the area and have some really good games. So it's been nothing surprising over the last couple years after watching him week-in and week-out at home, and the game was clearly good enough to carry on to any level of golf. So, excited to see him doing so well and I think this is just the start for him."
Oddly, Zalatoris was eligible to be a rookie this season but never became a full-time member so he was not eligible to make the FedEx Cup Playoffs. His season ended when the PGA Tour regular season ended at the Wyndham Championship. To attain membership, Zalatoris would have had to win a PGA Tour event, which he nearly did at Augusta National (Hideki Matsuyama beat him by one stroke).
"On behalf of the PGA Tour, my congratulations to Will Zalatoris on being voted the 2021 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year by the Tour's membership," said PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan in a statement. "Will's success despite not having PGA Tour membership status at the outset of the 2020-21 season is a testament to not only his ability but also his hard work and attitude."
Zalatoris is officially now a member of the PGA Tour heading into the 2021-22 PGA Tour season and will play his first tournament at the Fortinet Championship this week in Napa.