AUGUSTA, Ga. — As an undergraduate at Wake Forest, Will Zalatoris acquired an invite acquainted to members of the golf staff: Come play at Augusta National Golf Club. When he did in 2017, he recalled lately, he stood on the bridge straddling Rae’s Creek and gazed round Amen Corner.

He has now crossed the bridge at No. 12 time and again, and at his father’s urging, he has appeared again every time. But on Sunday, in the last spherical of his inaugural look at the Masters, the stroll was as a 24-year-old contender for the winner’s inexperienced jacket — and as the newest embodiment of how certainly one of golf’s grandest spectacles has develop into extra favorable to its first-time entrants.

Zalatoris faltered by the narrowest of margins on Sunday as Hideki Matsuyama putted into historical past for a one-stroke victory to develop into the first Asian-born participant to win the Masters. But Zalatoris turned the first Masters rookie since 1982 to stand alone in second place, a slot most steadily stuffed throughout the generations by extra skilled gamers, together with these bearing surnames like Nicklaus and Mickelson and Woods.

What was as soon as a rarity at a match that started in 1934 is usually feeling like the norm. Until 2011, a participant in his Masters debut had positioned second in the match, alone or in a tie, simply 5 occasions. Since then, it has occurred 5 extra occasions, together with in the 2020 and 2021 tournaments.

The 42-year legend of Fuzzy Zoeller, the final participant to win the match on his first try, will linger amongst Augusta National’s hills and pines for at least one other 12 months. But a wrinkle for the sport and its future is that golf’s latest names are constantly proving massively formidable at the most commemorated of American tournaments, one the place expertise is deeply prized and jitters can assault even these gamers with loads of it.

His age however, Zalatoris has been getting ready for years: He informed his mother and father on Saturday that he had a reminiscence from over the years of each gap at Augusta National, from misery-inducing No. 5 to the gap in a single manufacturing facility, comparatively talking, that No. 16 will be. His craving to play nicely at Augusta National — his sense that he might play nicely at Augusta National — might be at least partly traced to Tiger Woods, the five-time winner who was absent this 12 months.

“He’s our trendsetter for the game,” Zalatoris stated. “I think that’s part of the reason why so many kids come out early, is we saw him be fearless at a young age and we come out and play fearless. And then on top of that, we were interested in watching the tournament year in, year out.”

There might be different causes, too, for the surge in fortunes amongst gamers of their debut. In 2017, Phil Mickelson proffered that Augusta National’s greens, which have been notably vicious this match, had develop into extra amenable for first-time gamers, maybe easing their path towards the prime of the leaderboard.

“The course has been lengthened, and the greens aren’t the only defense,” Mickelson, who first gained a Masters title on his 12th strive, stated then. “What that allows you to do is miss it in a spot that normally would be bad but get away with it because the greens are more receptive. I think that that allows players who have not played here many times, who maybe put it in the wrong spots, but are able to recover because the greens will receive shots that they didn’t use to receive.”

Still, an admirable end in a participant’s first 12 months doesn’t promise imminent success at Augusta.

Sungjae Im, for example, missed the minimize this 12 months after being certainly one of the runners-up in 2020. Jason Day, the second-place finisher in 2011, nonetheless has not gained the match, similar to most of the first-timers who completed second at the Masters. Adam Scott, who earned a ninth-place tie in his first outing in 2002, didn’t crack the prime 10 once more till 2011.

“The first year I played here I knew nothing really, and I finished ninth,” Scott, who gained the Masters in 2013, stated final week. “And then I just started finding out where all the trouble was the years after that. It took me a while, and I really didn’t play good tee to green until about 2010, which was nine years in, and kind of got my confidence back over the next couple years.”

Then once more, Jordan Spieth, who completed three strokes behind Matsuyama for a tie for third on this 12 months’s match, gained on his second strive. He marveled over Zalatoris.

“Having seen him progress and his confidence level just continue to progress over the last year and a half, I’m not surprised,” Spieth stated Sunday. “It is very difficult this weekend to come out in the position he was in in the final group on Saturday and to — it’s just a different feeling. Then in this wind, to control his high ball flight and to make putts on these greens when you don’t see other greens like this, especially in windy conditions, I thought it’s extremely impressive.”

At sundown on Sunday, Zalatoris was mulling his 279 pictures over the match, considering which of them he might have carried out higher — “that’s just golf every single week” — however was nonetheless relishing a small spot in historical past. He earned a standing ovation as he approached the inexperienced at No. 18 after a day of glancing at each leaderboard he might.

“I just took as many mental images in my mind because I’ve watched this tournament for as long as I can remember,” he stated, “and the fact that I was a part of it is pretty special, and the fact that I contended is even cooler.”

There is, in spite of everything, subsequent 12 months.

“I know if I keep doing what I’m doing,” he stated, “I’m going to have a really good chance in the future.”

By then, although, there might be one other first-year participant climbing the leaderboard.



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