Within 48 hours, Will Zalatoris went from practicing at Augusta National Golf Club to an operating table.
The injury was swift. The return wasn’t.
Zalatoris beamed as he sat in front of the media Tuesday at the Hero World Challenge, recounting a saga he could finally close.
A back injury that forced Zalatoris to miss the final months of 2022 popped up again Thursday, moments before his first round of the Masters this year, he explained. By Saturday, he was receiving microdiscectomy surgery. And after seven long months of rehab, his return is imminent. Zalatoris will tee it up this week at the Hero World Challenge.
“It’s been an interesting seven months,” he said.
He went back to school, attended Wimbledon, checked off some bucket list travel and, oh – rebuilt his golf game again. What did he learn? Patience.
“I had a lot of really good advice from guys that have had to go through the same thing and all of them said take your time, no one’s ever come back from an injury taking too long,” Zalatoris said.
He made that misstep once already. Zalatoris, 27, suffered two herniated discs last August, the week after earning his first PGA TOUR victory at the FedEx St. Jude Championship. He missed the BMW Championship, TOUR Championship and Presidents Cup. Doctors offered the same microdiscectomy surgery then but recommended a rest and recovery plan because of his young age.
That wasn’t the misstep. It was accelerating the plan too quickly.
Zalatoris returned for The Sentry, where he now admits he wasn’t 100%. Still, he had several good results over the next three months (T11 at The Sentry, fourth at The Genesis Invitational). Putting together four consecutive rounds wasn’t the issue. It was doing it week after week. And by the time he reached the Masters, his back gave out again. This time, surgery was the only path to take.
So when Zalatoris couldn’t swing a club for the first few months post-surgery, he was OK with it. When he shot 63-65-64 over three days at his home course in Dallas but was told by his surgeon not to play a fourth day in a row, it was frustrating. But he obliged. When he didn’t hit his targeted return of playing PGA TOUR golf in October, it was no biggie. And when his surgeon gave him the go-ahead to play The RSM Classic, Zalatoris opted to bide his time.
Remember, no one’s ever come back from an injury taking too long.
So, he returns this week to the Hero World Challenge fully comfortable with his body and mind. He has a better range of motion than he did before the injury. His ball speed numbers are nearing the same as when he won the FedEx St. Jude Championship (178 mph vs. roughly 182 mph).
He’s confident he can be the player he once was – and better. If that’s the case, there’s plenty of incoming success. Zalatoris, the 2021 Rookie of the Year, was the No. 8 player in the world when he withdrew from the Masters. He had six top 10s in his last eight major appearances and appeared to be a lock for the U.S. Ryder Cup Team.
His swing remains fundamentally the same, with several minor tweaks designed to take the load off his back. He’s a bit more rotational and horizontal. He’s keeping his left heel from flying up, a characteristic of his past swing. It comes at the expense of some distance but with improved accuracy and health. He picked up a few tips from Tiger Woods, who previously underwent a microdiscectomy using the same surgeon. The two spoke in September, with Woods asking questions and offering advice. Zalatoris now takes swing videos from the rear to see how his back moves throughout the swing, a tip he picked up from their conversations.
He’s taking proactive steps in everyday life, too. He avoids carrying a backpack while traveling. He doesn’t sit on barstools, and he’s hyperaware of his posture.
“I know myself better physically, know myself better mentally,” he said. “So I think there’s going to be a lot of positives that are going to come from this time off.”
One has already come to fruition. Zalatoris went back to school to complete his psychology degree at Wake Forest. He had finished all his major classes but had a few electives left. In one of them, he created a LinkedIn page and a resume.
Good life skills, to be sure. But now that he’s feeling fully healthy, he can shelve those resources for a bit longer. Everyone is well aware of what a healthy Zalatoris can do.
Source : PGA Tour