Will Zalatoris is just happy to be back playing golf. He is finally returning from a back injury that he suffered the week after he won the FedEx St. Jude Championship, his first PGA Tour victory.
The injury caused him to miss the rest of the FedEx Playoffs and the Presidents Cup. He was out of commission, golf-wise, until December 1st.
During that time, he watched a lot of TV. So much so that at the Sentry Tournament of Champions he quipped, “I found the end of Netflix.” Unfortunately, he didn’t say what happens at the end. If there was a preview of coming attractions or if the screen just went dark. A lot of people would probably like to know because few have gotten to the end.
While Zalatoris couldn’t play golf, he took carts and watched friends play golf, which has to be a lot like watching your friends eat ice cream cones when you don’t have one.
"“I was just so bored when I was out,” he explained. “I felt like I would go out and hit a few chips or maybe have a few beers and — or have a few putts and then maybe need to go grab a few beers with my boys.”"
He got married. He and his wife got a dog. He chilled. He fought the boredom of not being in his routine as a golfer. He missed the adrenaline buzz of being in competition.
"“I think having these top guys show up together is only going to make our product better as a whole.” – Will Zalatoris said about new PGA Tour schedule"
Fortunately, Zalatoris’ back was something that could be “fixed” with a slight swing modification and rest. There was no surgery. Nothing invasive. At least not now.
“We basically kind of went through a whole assessment of seeing where I’m at, and it was really, I think, keeping longevity in mind,” he explained.
The big challenge for his team, however, was making sure he didn’t make changes that would ruin what led him to be No. 1 in Strokes Gained Approach for last season.
After reviewing everything, they determined that he needed to move the ball back slightly in his stance so that the ball was more centered, relative to his body. He had been playing the ball left of center at address.
“We spent a lot of time understanding the pressures of my golf swing and understanding how I push off my right side,” Zalatoris noted.
"“I do it later than a lot of guys, so what that does for someone with a lot of side bend is that gets my right hip high and my spine’s tilted back, and so as Dr. Rose said, duh, no wonder I had a back issue.”"
He also changed to a shorter golf shaft in his driver. He’s now using a 44 ¾-inch shaft instead of 46. The change in shaft length, he said, puts him in a better body position to take the pressure off the parts that were injured. So far, he said he hasn’t lost any clubhead speed and feels he will be able to transition back to the 46-inch length soon and maybe even pick up distance.
‘I’m trying to get more centered over it (the ball) and work more around my right side, so more of a turn as opposed to kind of a lateral shift,” Zalatoris explained.
The rotation will keep him from getting his right hip too high and tilting his spine back, which, in his case, was creating extra stress.
One surprising thing the change has done is to bring his ball flight down somewhat, a result that amazed him.
“I know living in Texas you’re used to hitting the ball low, but it’s doing it by itself as opposed to having to manipulate it. So, it was actually kind of a nice fix,” he noted.
There was another side-benefit of the shorter shaft. When using a longer driver, he sometimes hit shots to the right because it was harder to return the club squarely at impact with the longer club than with the slightly shorter club.
Even though he was sidelined for part of the summer and all of the fall, Zalatoris is in agreement with the changes that were made to the PGA Tour schedule including elevated tournaments.
He is up to speed on the discussions regarding LIV golf. He attended the players meeting in Delaware and is on the Players Advisory Council so he’s in the loop as far as the decisions that have been made.
Zalatoris sees the changes as a way to make the PGA Tour product stronger.
"“You’re just trying to make sure that our top guys, you’re seeing as much as possible together.” “When you have 47 events, you want to be careful of maybe watering down the product, and now we’re just making sure that our product is as strong as possible.”"
Zalatoris said he was not worried about the other non-elevated events, although there have been rumors circulating about tournament directors in telephone shouting matches with executives at Tour HQ. So far, no players have said anything like that. Zalatoris, being on the PAC, may know some things that the rest of us don’t.
He said, for his own scheduling in the foreseeable future, he would only skip events for health issues. Why, he asked reporters, would he skip an event with a $20 million purse and the best players in the world participating?
“I think having these top guys show up together is only going to make our product better as a whole,” he said.
In fact, he suggested that having top players participate at designated events will create a similar kind of excitement for tournaments as is found currently at majors.
“Now instead of having ’em just stuck in four weeks, five weeks whatever it is, now you’re going to have it spread out throughout the year,” he added.
With that comment, Zalatoris has just created a new way to look at the changes going forward on the PGA Tour.
If the elevated events get to be as exciting as majors, then the disparity that has existed between majors and PGA Tour events will shrink, perhaps to the point that some tournaments may equal or surpass majors. Now that is an absolutely amazing way to look at the changes.