What does meteoric rise of young American, who finished runner-up at Masters, mean ahead of Ryder Cup? Hawk & Purk take sides
If the Ryder Cup were held next week, would Will Zalatoris receive one of your six captain’s picks?
Hawk’s take: As good as he looked at the Masters, as capable as his swift upward trend might suggest, Zalatoris hasn’t done enough to warrant automatic inclusion on the U.S. squad. Not yet, anyway. A PGA Tour victory and/or another high finish at a major obviously would aid his cause, but you could say that about a bunch of guys. The proverbial rule of thumb says first-year Tour pros aren’t entitled to at-large berths, although American skipper Corey Pavin added rookie Rickie Fowler to his roster in 2010, a risk that paid off handsomely.
Besides, what does a thumb know? Zalatoris has a better chance of making it to Whistling Straits because of the two extra selections allotted to captain Steve Stricker, which also means there will be more high-profile candidates worthy of consideration. Patrick Reed, Tony Finau, Webb Simpson, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay all reside outside of the top six right now. It would be tough to leave any of those five at home in favor of a player currently 18th in the U.S. standings.
Zalatoris is off to a nice start in the big leagues, but he has yet to win, nor has he been in serious Sunday afternoon contention at any of his 15 stroke-play starts other than the Masters. For all the commitments to experience that have hurt U.S. Ryder Cup teams in recent years, you still can’t ignore the value of having proven veterans in the cauldron for those three days versus Europe. Zalatoris might be ready, but he’s far more of a question mark than an exclamation point at this stage of his career. He has to play his way onto this team to alter the punctuation.
Purk’s take: At the top of the PGA of America’s web page with the U.S. Ryder Cup team standings to date is a healthy-sized picture of Will Zalatoris, whose name doesn’t appear in the top 12 as you scroll down the page. It’s a not-so-subtle message to any interested party that the PGA apparently would love to have one of the hottest commodities in golf on the team in September at Whistling Straits.
And you can bet that U.S. captain Steve Stricker is paying close attention. Zala-mania is gripping the golf world, especially after his runner-up finish at his first Masters, one shot behind Hideki Matsuyama. At Augusta National, Zalatoris hit his driver as straight as you can point – and long. But even more impressive was his 2-under 70 in the final round, never bowing to the big moment.
Plus, Zalatoris is playing better golf than half of the top 12 in the U.S. standings. Stricker has six captain’s picks, and the 24-year-old should get an intense look, even though he’s No. 18 at present. He’s everything the U.S. Ryder Cup team needs right now: a young, fresh face with no scar tissue and absolutely fearless. Surely, Stricker can find a few pairs of size-28 trousers that would make Zalatoris a perfect fit.
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