The easiest and, arguably, most historic vote for the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year has gone to Will Zalatoris.
Zalatoris defeated Garrick Higgo, who had a victory (Palmetto Championship) in just eight starts last season, in the voting for the Arnold Palmer Award, but the more impressive accomplishment was earning a spot on a tour that was virtually closed last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There was none of the traditional promotion or relegation via the Korn Ferry Tour last season because of the pandemic, which meant the only way to earn a spot on Tour was as a special temporary member, which Zalatoris secured in November with his tie for 16th at the Bermuda Championship.
“I think my first kind of 10 minutes, once I realized that it was going to be a two-year season, was going to be a little bit of a frustration,” Zalatoris said Monday from the Fortinet Championship, where he is making his 2021-22 season debut. “I had to look at it like an opportunity. The fact that I was essentially given two years to go win three times [on the Korn Ferry Tour] and I knew that if I were to go win three times I would be that much more prepared to win at the PGA Tour level.”
Zalatoris – who became the first special temporary member to win the Arnold Palmer Award since Charles Howell III in 2001 – finished the 2020-21 season with 14 top-25 finishes, including a runner-up at the Masters and top-10 showings at the PGA Championship and ’20 U.S. Open. As a special temporary member, he wasn’t able to qualify for the FedExCup playoffs but his 1,296 non-member points would have been good for a spot inside the top 25 on the final regular-season list.
There were only three rookies on Tour last season – Zalatoris, Higgo and Rafael Campos. A player’s rookie year is defined by the Tour as the season they play in at least seven Tour events as a professional.