What are they going to say now that Will Zalatoris has made not one, not two, not three, but four of his last do-or-die putts on Tour? What are they going to say that he has finally exorcised his demons and put a string of crushing close calls in the rearview mirror? What are they going to say he can't do? That be doesn't have the mental toughness to navigate the brightest moments? What are they going to say now that everything that was being said has been rendered moot by otherworldly ball-striking and steady hands on the green?
When the 26-year-old faced a 10-footer to preserve par on the closing regulation hole at the FedEx St. Jude Invitational, it felt like Groundhog Day before Phil Connors cracked the code and started truly living. As it slid perfectly left to right into the center of the cup, Zalatoris unleashed a primal yell,finding words made famous by an unconscious Stephen Curry during yet another championship run.
On the second playoff hole he scrambled to within 10 feet by guile and luck and replicated his stone-cold nerves to force a third. After a freakish bounce and iconic deliberation up against the rocks at the par-3 No. 11, the better idea angels of his nature won out and he took a penalty, retreating back only to take an enormous step forward by sticking within two club lengths and converting for his first win.
It hardly seems possible considering how much of a rocket he's been out of the gate. Seven months after earning the callup from the Korn Ferry Tour, there was a second-place finish at The Masters. Luke List out-dueled only Zalatoris at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Justin Thomas was one shot better in a three-hole playoff at the PGA Championship. A lip-out caused him to fall just shy of a playoff with Matt Fitzpatrick at the U.S. Open.
Golf is a sport where close is good yet not enough. Though he was making history as the most consistent neophyte in Tour history by the numbers (only Ernie Els has posted as many Top-10s through eight majors), he could never truly arrive until he beat the final boss of a pressure-packed Sunday.
That moment has come. He didn't just win any tournament. He won in the playoffs. He won while knowing no one had ever lost three playoffs in a single-season. He won despite the not-so-distant pain of being within reach yet never grasping the ultimate prize.
And he won in memorable fashion, with a sleepy weekend with precious little drama exploded into weirdness as everyone had treated the Sunday Scaries with psychedelic mushrooms. We will remember the improbable bounces, the way Zalatoris' ball refused to go for a dip. How he got down eye level for proof that he was, in fact, impounded into impossibility. How he channeled steely reserve and victorious mettle.
Numbers never lie, yet they can obscure. The best golfer this year has been Scottie Scheffler. The second-best has been the lithe and mechanical Zalatoris, doing more to cement his consistency than any young golfer can hope to do. So it would be appropriate if it's these two down the stretch in Atlanta, going shot for shot with the season-long crown on the line. Their shared history would create added intrigue.
What are they saying now? Some are looking at this superstar with fresh eyes. Others see no change, knowing without a doubt that winning was inside Zalatoris and once he put one on the board, many others would soon follow.
Most importantly, we're saying it's past due. Good to see. And more than earned.