NEWS FROM THE TOUR VANS
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Will Zalatoris may be a prodigious ballstriker – he entered last week ranked No. 6 in strokes gained approach and No. 14 in strokes gained tee-to-green for the season – but watching him putt can be a painful experience. Video of a 2-footer gone awry at last month’s Open Championship tells the story of a young player struggling to become comfortable on the greens.
Those woes were even more pronounced early in his professional career. He made six PGA Tour starts in 2018 and was losing 1.8 strokes per round on the greens, which would have been the worst on tour by a stroke per round if Zalatoris had played enough to qualify for the stat ranking. It was nearly the equivalent of starting a tournament eight strokes behind the field without hitting a shot. This was despite Zalatoris gaining 1.1 strokes per round with his approach during those six starts, which would have led the PGA Tour. For context, Collin Morikawa is gaining more than 1.5 strokes per round on his approach this season, which is one of the best marks in the ShotLink era.
That’s when Zalatoris’ instructor, Troy Denton, offered his pupil an arm-lock putter that originally was intended for Denton to use in the PGA Professional National Championship. Two weeks later, Zalatoris shot a 59 and went on to author a terrific run that has vaulted him inside the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
The Odyssey White Hot Pro #7 Long took Zalatoris a long way, but his putting is still a problem as evidenced by him coming into last week ranked No. 150 in strokes gained putting.
That prompted a change in Memphis, Tennessee, at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. Zalatoris stuck with the am-lock approach but moved to a Scotty Cameron Phantom X 11 putter, a model that has been popular among tour players this year. Olympic medal winners Rory Sabbatini and C.T. Pan both used a Phantom X 11.5 during the competition, a sign that the putter has seen a significant amount of action among the game’s best.
Zalatoris gained more than 2.3 strokes on the greens in the first round with the new putter in Memphis and flashed positive signs. It will be a gear story to follow throughout the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Arm-lock continues to be an influential putter style on tour. Phil Mickelson also mixed things up in Memphis as he tried a custom arm-lock Odyssey PM Milled Proto Blade with 6.5 degrees of loft. The putter was designed with additional offset and is slightly more upright than normal.
Xander Schauffele, the gold medal winner in Japan, had been using an arm-lock O-Works Red #7 CH putter since the Memorial Tournament despite arguing that the putter style should be banned. Schauffele ditched the arm-lock during the Olympics, however, going back to the conventional version of the same putter.
It turned out to be a good decision. Schauffele looked comfortable on the greens throughout his performance, capped by coaxing home a 5-foot par putt on the 72nd hole to secure the gold.