Rocket headliner Will Zalatoris knows his win is coming — and it'll happen on the PGA Tour

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Will Zalatoris reacts after a putt on the ninth hole during the final round of the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.

Detroit — If he feels snake-bitten, cursed, you name it, he doesn't show it.

Will Zalatoris, the sophomore star on the PGA Tour, has 16 top-10 finishes between this season and last, including three runners-up and six top-10s at major championships. He hasn't closed the deal, yet, but everyone knows it's coming, including Zalatoris.

And when it does, you can bet your bottom dollar it'll be on the PGA Tour.

"I've been very close," said Zalatoris, "and I'd give a lot of money for a couple inches."

That should tell you all you know need to know about his stance on the upstart and controversial LIV Golf tour, and as first man up to face the media Tuesday, he took all the questions — and didn't dodge a one.

Will Zalatoris has eight top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour this season.

The LIV tour, funded by the Saudis, has snagged a number of PGA Tour players, including some big names, thanks to eight- and sometimes nine-figure signing bonuses. The LIV tour will continue its inaugural season this week in New Jersey, playing opposite Detroit's Rocket Mortgage Classic.

Zalatoris, at No. 13, is the second-highest-ranked player in the world teeing it up this week in Detroit, behind world No. 4 Patrick Cantlay.

"We've got the best players in the world here," Zalatoris, 25, said. "We are the best tour. Every week, we're playing the best courses on the planet.

"I think that we just need to let the dust settle, if you will, and we'll be just fine."

Zalatoris, even so young in his PGA Tour career, is on the Player Advisory Council for the PGA Tour, and has led the charge to make improvements to the Tour, including shortening the schedule so that players can actually have an offseason. The PGA Tour will move to a calendar-year schedule in 2024, shifting away from the wraparound schedule that seemingly starts right after the previous season ends. The PGA Tour also has boosted the money made available to players, particularly stars; the FedEx Cup now pays $18 million to the champion, and the PGA Tour last year started a big jackpot purse for players' social media impact.

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All this comes as the LIV Golf tour, which is playing eight events this year with plans to move to 14 next year, is paying Phil Mickelson $200 million, and Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau more than $100 million.

Money is a motivating factor for most, if not all, that have gone to the LIV tour, though not one player there has actually admitted that. They stick to the talking points about how LIV is helping to grow the game.

But it's worth noting, many more players have turned down the LIV money than have accepted it.

"(Bleep), we're driving Escalades this week. It's pretty cool. It's not bad," said Traverse City's Ryan Brehm, who won on the PGA Tour in March for the first time, at the age of 35 (he's now 36), after years of grinding and chasing the dream of making a good living on the PGA Tour. "I'm not gonna sit here and pretend like, 'Oh, you know, we're not getting paid enough.' That drives me crazy when I hear that.

"Somebody this week is gonna make over a million bucks. That's pretty damn good."

The PGA Tour has banned all players who've signed up for LIV, which certainly will lead to lawsuits — but the directive stands for now.

There are rumblings that the four major championships, all run by different governing bodies, are considering a future ban, as well, though the ban might come organically for most anyway as the LIV tour events, at 54 holes with 48-player fields and no cuts and shotgun starts, aren't receiving Official World Golf Ranking points.

"Call it what it is. At this point, it's an exhibition," said Brehm, noting he's not received an offer to join LIV.

"I just don't see what's compelling about the product."

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Tiger Woods spoke publicly about LIV at The Open Championship earlier this month, a rare instance in which Woods embraced a platform to talk about anything controversial.

He questioned the young players who took the money — recent Michigan State grad James Piot, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion but with no tour status, signed up for two years and just less than $6 million guaranteed (more than twice Brehm's career earnings) — saying the decision denies them the opportunity to make something of themselves on the PGA Tour, and eventually in majors, through the long grind.

He also questioned the incentive for LIV players to practice. The bonuses are paid, and last place each week pays more than $100,000. First place pays $4 million, $4.75 million if you also take the team title.

"Whether I agree with it or not, they don't tell me how to live my life and I don't tell them how to live theirs," Zalatoris said. "Do I agree with it? Obviously not. I've been very vocal about being very pro-PGA Tour.

"Anybody here could have Monday'd in yesterday and won this golf tournament, and over there, it's the same 48 guys playing over and over and over.

"Here, it's earned, and I think that's the biggest difference."

Zalatoris, a San Francisco native and Wake Forest alum, turned pro in 2018 but didn't make it on the PGA Tour until the 2020-21 season, after he lit up the Korn Ferry Tour for a win, a second, a third, 10 top-10s and 14 top-25s in 16 tournaments. He shot up to the PGA Tour, where he had one runner-up and eight top-10s, good for more than $3.4 million in earnings — not generational wealth, but probably enough to keep the lights on and the gas tank filled.

This year, Zalatoris has continued to roll, with three second-place finishes, eight top-10s and more than $6 million in winnings. (That says nothing about the big bucks he's paid to wear those logs on his shirt and cap.)

He finished runner-up at this year's U.S. Open and PGA Championship and tied for sixth at the Masters. Last year, he was second at the Masters and tied for eighth at the PGA. The year prior, he tied for sixth at the U.S. Open.

That win is coming, maybe this week in Detroit, or maybe in the playoffs or next year's major rotation. And with it will come immense satisfaction, which, to many, matters more than just a big, fat direct deposit.

"If you gave me all the money in the world tomorrow, I'd still be doing the exact same thing," said Zalatoris, playing for the first time since tying for 28th at the British Open at St. Andrews. "I've wanted to win a major my entire life, and I've wanted to play out here.

"I don't play this game for money."

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984