Will Zalatoris became the crowd favorite very quickly on Sunday at Augusta National.
Playing in his first Masters, he was the biggest threat to eventual champion Hideki Matsuyama’s lead through his first nine holes and even as he started scoring on the back nine en route to a final round 2-under 70, the patrons were cheering from the 16th hole as scores went up on Augusta’s manual leaderboards for Zalatoris a few holes behind.
For Zalatoris’ caddie Ryan Goble, who’s been working with Zalatoris since July 2019 on the Korn Ferry Tour, this was his second Masters after debuting with John Merrick in 2013. The 49-year-old understands golf fans may have been surprised by his player’s second-place finish: not Goble.
“It was not a surprise to me,” Goble said. “I get that nobody knows him, but he did finish tied for sixth at the U.S. Open. I’m sure people thought it was a fluke, but he is such a good player.”
A solo second-place finish for a Masters rookie has to be a good feeling, you’d imagine.
“I’m very proud of how he played,” Goble said. “He’s a 24-year-old kid and we were playing on the Korn Ferry last September. Seven months ago. The kid’s got the total package.”
Zalatoris finished only one back. So how did the 24-year-old take the finish?
“He was disappointed, we wanted to win,” Goble said. “Of course he’s very happy to have finished second, but one shot? You think back on our round [Sunday] and realize we three-putted 13. You think of how you should have made that putt, hit this shot. But golf is that way,”
There are a couple shots they’d like to have back, who wouldn’t?
“We had two three-putts, on 10 and 13. Ten was the big one. Downhill and he was all pumped up. He saw the leaderboard and got a little aggressive,” Goble said.
Zalatoris was in solo second at the time and he ran his birdie putt 12 feet past.
“Unfortunately, it just kind of sunk the momentum,” Goble said.
When Zalatoris missed his 12-footer on the par-3 12th for par, Goble said Zalatoris shared that he “knew that broke more than that.”
A three-putt for par on 13 was also a tough one to swallow.
Moments later they got to 15.
“On 15 he took a big sigh, and he kind of knew that Matsuyma was about six or seven shots up on us at that point and we’re out of reach,” Goble said. “I looked at him and I just said, ‘hey, let’s just play some solid golf coming in and you never know what will happen.’”
They birdied 15 and 17 to get to 9-under par and solo second and solidified it with an all-world par after being in the fairway bunker on 18.
Zalatoris got a big cheer after making the par putt. He gave the patrons a shot in the arm and yet another reason to root for this young gun.
“That putt on 18 was my most memorable moment of the week,” Goble said. “The final round, in the hunt and you make a 17-foot putt for par. He got a pretty big applause and standing ovation. That was incredible. It was so much fun to end the tournament with that kind of par. It leaves a better taste in your mouth.”
Goble and Zalatoris hustled quickly from there to scoring and then rushed out to the practice area to be ready just in case of a playoff.
Through an incredibly memorable week, there were a couple moments that stand out in the way player and caddie caught themselves in the stage they had made it to.
“We’re on 17 tee on Friday and he looks at me after hitting his drive and says ‘this is fun, isn’t it?’” Goble said. “Then on Sunday I looked down 17 and asked him ‘are we having fun yet?’ And he said, ‘yep, we’re having fun.’ He has a great outlook on things.”
Saturday’s third round was a big situation for them in the final pairing with Justin Rose as well. Goble said his heart rate on his Whoop watch got raised quite a bit as he stood on that first tee box. It got to 168.
On Sunday, the biggest adrenaline rush that Goble felt came after the birdie on No. 8.
“The most adrenaline was definitely in the middle of the round there on eight,” Goble said. “We just thought, ‘Let’s get it going, we’re in a good spot’.”
The biggest challenge as a caddie for Goble was in reading Augusta National’s famously undulating greens.
For the first part of their year and a half together, Goble helped Zalatoris read greens on the Korn Ferry Tour.
As they’ve been playing PGA Tour events as of late, Goble hadn’t been called upon much for green reading going into Masters week. At Augusta, there were no green-reading books for them to use, so Goble remembers putting in some extra work on Monday and Tuesday as he rolled a number of golf balls on Augusta’s various quadrants on their greens.
On Thursday, he got called in to read four putts and Zalatoris made three of them.
“I was prepared because I had rolled the ball on Monday and Tuesday. That’s a good feeling. Those greens are just wicked,” Goble said. “It’s good to at least feel confident about what you’re sharing with him, especially when you’re in nearly the final group and have a chance to win. You want to feel confident about those things.”
Lastly, it was Goble’s observation that Zalatoris is typically fairly chatty on the golf course. On Sunday, with all of the marbles on the line, he kept to himself just a little bit more.
Who can blame him? He was trying to do something that no one has done since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 — win in his Masters debut.
Though that opportunity is past, there’s always next year at Augusta.