Now that the golf world’s getting a little more used to seeing Will Zalatoris and caddie Ryan Goble in their living room during major Sundays thanks to their second-place finish at the Masters, it’s interesting to see how their working relationship came together.
Goble calls it an “Act of God” that they began their unlikely partnership.
Goble, 49, has looped at the pro level for 10 years with the likes of John Merrick, Spencer Levin, Michael Thompson, K.H. Lee and now Zalatoris. Before that, he was assistant coach for UCLA’s men’s golf team. Goble’s lone PGA Tour win came with Merrick in 2013 at Riviera when he made his maiden trip to Augusta. Last week’s run with Zalatoris was his second time at the tournament he’s always loved the most.
Goble, a native of the Bay Area, worked his last week for K.H. Lee at Torrey Pines in January 2019 and then took a few months off of caddying and moved to a buddy’s house in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he worked at a local country club for a short stint.
Beginning in late spring of 2019, Goble was contacted by John Merrick’s manager Allen Hobbs, who also manages Zalatoris, about a “young stud” that Hobbs thought would be a “great fit for us both,” Goble said.
“At the time I’m thinking Korn Ferry, if you make the cut and finish outside the top 5, you make $100 or so bucks. I was like, ‘oh man, do I want to wait for a PGA Tour bag, or do I want to take a chance?’” Goble said. “The first time he offered it to me it was a Monday qualifier. I missed it that first Monday because of other commitments.”
A month later, Zalatoris made headway and Monday qualified for the Savannah Golf Championship. Hobbs asked Goble again and the veteran said, “yeah I’ll do it.”
But another conflict arose. A very good friend of Goble’s saw his wife get sick and very quickly pass away. Goble, feeling the need to comfort his friend in mourning, called Hobbs back and said he couldn’t come down to Savannah but that he had to go see his friend.
“So that was strike two for me,” Goble remembered.
Zalatoris ended up finishing 12th that week and continued playing well.
“Then Fourth of July weekend rolled around and Allen goes, actually he didn’t even tell me Will’s name, he just goes ‘hey, I got this kid,’” Goble began. “Then finally it worked out and he goes, ‘can you get up to Buffalo this week?’”
And Goble finally made it happen for the Lecom Health Challenge in New York. “I packed up my car and drove up there from North Carolina.”
That’s about a 10-hour drive. It didn’t take long for Zalatoris’ game and attitude to impress Goble.
“The first practice round with that kid and I thought, ‘Oh wow,’ because he’s that talented,” Goble said. “Will’s the kind of kid, that just his personality and the way he looks at golf — this is impressive. You don’t get those kinds of thoughts when you work with somebody for the first time very often.”
Goble watched the then 22-year-old hit balls and practice, and liked what he saw.
“He’s got great energy, he’s positive. He has that positive attitude that nothing really upsets him, except for maybe missing a putt he should have made,” Goble said.
This budding duo would end the week just one shot short of a playoff. Not a bad trial run.
“After that first week I thought, ‘man I just struck gold. I won the lottery right here. So, I gotta stick this out on the Korn Ferry with him,’” Goble said.
However, the Korn Ferry Tour as a caddie can be tough on the finances.
“I remember we finished 19th one week and I was so excited, and I made 150 bucks for a whole week,” Goble said. “It cost me more to be there for the weekend, the hotel and money for food and all that more than what I make. Those are the things that go through your mind.
“But,” Goble paused and then laughed joyfully, “I made the right decision with Will. He exudes confidence and he and I have fun out there.”