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PGA Tour Inc.

09/14/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 09/14/2021 12:43

The numbers behind Will Zalatoris' Rookie of the Year campaign

On Monday, the PGA TOUR named Will Zalatoris as their Rookie of the Year for the 2020-21 season. The 25-year-old Wake Forest product finished in the top-30 on the official money list for the season, and in the top-25 in scoring average and Strokes Gained: Total.

Zalatoris' victory is the culmination of a two-year professional climb, from the Korn Ferry Tour (and outside the top-500 in the World Ranking) to burgeoning PGA TOUR star. Since the beginning of 2020, Zalatoris has racked up 18 top-ten finishes between the Korn Ferry Tour and PGA TOUR. In that span, only Jon Rahm has had more official top-10 finishes worldwide, with 22 (Bryson DeChambeau is tied with Zalatoris at 18).

Zalatoris' persistent good play has made him an undeniable presence at the biggest events the men's game has to offer. Here are the numbers that fueled him to the Rookie of the Year title, and positioned himself as a player to watch in 2022 and beyond.

Elite Iron Play

Zalatoris averaged +0.75 Strokes Gained: Approach per round, the 7th-best rate of any player on the PGA TOUR in 2020-21. That was the highest per round average in that statistic by a PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year winner since Trevor Immelman in 2006 (+0.76 per round). Immelman, of course, would employ that approach play prowess two years later when he won The Masters, hitting 71 percent of his greens in regulation along the way.

Speaking of Augusta National, it was there that Zalatoris had his breakout performance, going from under-the-radar analytical darling to major championship contender. Zalatoris finished alone in second place, the first player to do that in his Masters debut since Dan Pohl in 1982. Zalatoris ranked 4th in the field that week in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and 14th in Strokes Gained: Approach. His combination of those two statistics - Strokes Gained: Long Game - was 3rd-best in the field, trailing only Corey Conners and Hideki Matsuyama. Zalatoris hit more than 73% of his greens in regulation for the Tournament, the 2nd-highest rate in the field.

For the season, Zalatoris was especially stellar with his longer irons. On approach shots from the fairway of 200 yards or more, Zalatoris had an average proximity to the hole of 46 feet, 10 inches - 11th-best on TOUR and nearly five feet better than the PGA TOUR average. When in those situations last season, Zalatoris' average score to par was -0.24, seven-tenths of a stroke better than the PGA TOUR mean.

Take a look at what's in Zalatoris' bag.

Un-Rookie-Like Consistency

In 2020-21, Zalatoris ranked 9th on the TOUR in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, an exceptional performance that positioned him between Viktor Hovland (8th) and Rory McIlroy (10th). While that lofty company is impressive in itself, it's the consistency in which Zalatoris delivered that might be most impressive. In 20 tournaments in which Strokes Gained data is available, Zalatoris had a positive Tee-to-Green average relative to the field 16 times. Zalatoris lost strokes to the field with his ball striking in less than 18% of his total rounds for the entire season.

Unlike the typical rookie, Zalatoris was able to avoid the big number on his scorecard. Zalatoris averaged less than 0.2 double bogeys or worse per round, ranking him among the leaders in double-or-worse avoidance for the season. More than 150 players accumulated at least 70 stroke play rounds in the 2020-21 PGA TOUR season. Of that group, only 9 averaged less than 0.2 doubles-or-worse per round, Zalatoris included.

In overall bogey avoidance, Zalatoris ranked in a respectable tie for 24th place, dropping shots on less than 15% of his total holes played for the season.

On the Horizon

In recent seasons, being named Rookie of the Year has been a harbinger of good things to come. Last year's winner, Scottie Scheffler, followed up his rookie campaign with his first Ryder Cup selection. Sungjae Im won the award in 2019, then picked up his first PGA TOUR victory at the 2020 Honda Classic. In 2017, Xander Schauffele was named Rookie of the Year - he finished 15th in the FedExCup the following season, and has become a mainstay in the top-ten of the Official World Golf Ranking.

Zalatoris' ball striking acumen makes him a strong candidate to continue his career ascent. As mentioned, Zalatoris finished the 2020-21 season ranked ninth in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. Nine of the top-ten ranked players in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green in 2020 advanced to the TOUR Championship in 2021. Two-thirds of players ranked in the top-ten in that statistic at the conclusion of the previous three seasons made it to East Lake. Three of the four major champions in 2021 also ranked in the top-ten in that statistic the previous season.

A worthy recipient of the Rookie of the Year award, Zalatoris figures to be a mainstay on PGA TOUR leaderboards for years to come.