Will Zalatoris back in the swing after enduring ‘golfer’s worst nightmare’

Will Zalatoris returns to action after a seven-month injury lay-off in the Hero World Challenge (Richard Sellers/PA)
Will Zalatoris returns to action after a seven-month injury lay-off in the Hero World Challenge (Richard Sellers/PA)

Will Zalatoris will join Tiger Woods in returning to action in the Hero World Challenge after suffering what he describes as “a golfer’s worst nightmare”.

Zalatoris moved to the top of the FedEx Cup standings with his first PGA Tour title in the FedEx St Jude Championship last August, only to injure his back midway through the following week’s BMW Championship.

The 27-year-old did not play again for the rest of the year and, after completing seven tournaments at the start of 2023, suffered a more severe setback ahead of the Masters.

“It’s been an interesting seven months,” Zalatoris said. “Kind of a golfer’s worst nightmare is feeling your back giving out on the driving range at Augusta 30 minutes before your tee time.

“When I go from ramping up to Augusta, hurt my back on Thursday and then Saturday I’m already having surgery, it’s a big swing of emotions. I think the first five, six weeks was probably the hardest.

“It’s been a patience game. It’s been a grind. I had a lot of really good advice from guys that have had to go through the same thing and all of them said take your time, no one’s ever come back from an injury taking too long.

“I really started hitting balls probably a couple of months ago. Each week has just progressively gotten a little bit better. I was on a pretty strict ball count, strict amount of time of how much I could practice.

“I know way more about anatomy now than I think I ever really wanted to, but I feel really good right now.”

Will Zalatoris
Will Zalatoris tees off during practice ahead of The Open at St Andrews (David Davies/PA)

Zalatoris used his enforced time off to return to college and work towards completing his degree at Wake Forest, which he left during his senior year to turn professional, and also enjoyed a bucket-list trip to Wimbledon with his wife Caitlin.

When he was finally cleared to practice, Zalatoris was wary of making any changes to his distinctive swing, but knew it was necessary to relieve the strain on his back.

“I’ve always been very hyperdynamic, my left foot’s off the ground like JT (Justin Thomas),” Zalatoris added.

“The reality is that actually put a lot of stress on my back, and I had a bunch of side bend and maybe my posture wasn’t perfect, but in my three years on Tour, my worst strokes-gained approach was second.

“The last thing I wanted to do was change anything. (But) the surgery that I had actually was a huge benefit in the sense that really thin, wiry people, they don’t have a lot of room in their back typically.

“I had had some stuff that had popped up, your body tries to heal it, which ends up putting in less space. So clearing all that stuff out, I’m probably one of the only people that’s gone through back surgery and has actually had better range of motion.

“It was the stability coming back that was really the hard part.”