LA QUINTA, Calif. – Earlier this week during his practice round at PGA West’s Nicklaus Tournament Course, Will Zalatoris reeled off six straight birdies in a row. He turned to his caddie, Ryan Goble, and bragged that it was his longest consecutive birdie streak.
What’s better than a six-pack of birdies in a row? How about lucky number seven and to do it when it counts. Zalatoris, who started his round at the 10th, finished his second round at the Nicklaus Tournament Course on Friday with seven straight birdies to shoot a course-record 11-under 61 and climb back into contention at the American Express. He’s tied for fourth at the halfway point and trails Patrick Cantlay by two strokes.
Zalatoris’ score was 10 strokes better than his 1-under 71 at La Quinta Country Club a day earlier which left him frustrated with his performance.
“Josh Gregory told me,” he said of his coach, “if you want to shoot 64 you got to be willing to shoot 74 and obviously I clipped it today.”
Will Zalatoris lines up a putt on the 15th hole during the second round of The American Express at the Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West on January 21, 2022 in La Quinta, California. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Zalatoris, who was the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year last season and seeking his first win, said he hit “the reset button” and played aggressively, reminding himself that the tournament isn’t won on Thursday.
It didn’t hurt that Zalatoris wielded a molten putter on Friday, needing just 24 putts. During his time on the Korn Ferry Tour, Zalatoris and Goble typically read the line of putts together, but once he graduated to the PGA Tour, Goble bought his boss a green-reading book and they began to rely on it. With the books outlawed beginning this year, Zalatoris sent Goble to an AimPoint Express school, where he learned the green-reading process from its founder Mark Sweeney, who teaches his students to measure the side slope of a green on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being very flat and 10 extremely steep (7 is about the max).
Focusing on putting to one spot worked like magic on Friday, especially Goble’s read on a 25-foot bender for birdie at No. 6.
“That had about four feet of break in there that I was looking at about two and a half, so buried it in the middle of the heart, so thanks Ryan,” Zalatoris said.
Zalatoris got on the birdie train beginning at No. 3, drained a 40-footer at No. 8, and capped it off with a bonus birdie at nine after a wayward drive.
“I was trying to hit a hard cut and I kind of got underneath it and my foot slipped and blocked it way out right,” he said of a tee shot that landed in the right rough on the first hole. “I was just hoping it wasn’t in the bushes and I ended up having a pretty decent angle and a great lie and I just, my caddie gave me a good number (212 yards) and he said, ‘Hey, let’s hit a golf shot and let’s try and get out of here with a 4.’ ”
Zalatoris did better than that, knocking a 6-iron on the green and lipping in the putt.
“Making birdie on 9 from the wrong fairway is kind of the icing on the cake,” he said.