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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Adam Schupak

Tiger Woods isn’t the only one who’s back this week in The Bahamas. Hello, Will Zalatoris

NASSAU, Bahamas– The world of golf waits with bated breath for this week’s return of a ball-striking behemoth.

Tiger Woods? Well, yes, he’s the headliner but there’s also Will Zalatoris, who has actually been sidelined even longer. He last played at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in March.

“Kind of a golfer’s worse nightmare is feeling your back giving out on the driving range at Augusta 30 minutes before your tee time,” Zalatoris said on Tuesday during a press conference before the Hero World Challenge at Albany Golf Club.

Two days after he withdrew from the Masters in April, Zalatoris, 27, underwent a microdiscectomy surgery. Seven months later, he’s finally ready to return to action in the 20-man unofficial event.

Zalatoris avoided surgery as long as he could. He dealt with back trouble at the 2021 British Open, where he withdrew prior to the second round, and then suffered two herniated discs last August, one week after claiming his first PGA Tour title at the FedEx St. Jude Championship. He had the lead in the FedEx Cup when his back acted up during the third round of the BMW Championship and he missed the Tour Championship and Presidents Cup. Surgery was an option but Zalatoris elected to try rest and rehab as the more prudent path.

Will Zalatoris hits from the 11th fairway on the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West during the first round of The American Express in La Quinta, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023. (Photo: Taya Gray, Desert Sun)

“No surgeon wants to go in and do back surgery on someone that’s 26,” he said.

Zalatoris came back in January at the Sentry and notched a T-4 at the Genesis Invitational, but he never felt 100 percent and he made a number of adjustments to his swing to take the stress off his back.

“Kind of got away from my DNA of who I am as a golfer,” he said.

After surgery, Zalatoris said his recovery “wasn’t a straight line” but he’s made slow and steady progress. He said he couldn’t pick up his dogs for four, or five months let alone swing his golf clubs. When he shot 63-65-64 over three days at Brook Hollow in Dallas, he listened to his doctor – and his wife – who insisted it was too soon to play four straight days.

“I know myself better physically, know myself better mentally,” he said. “So I think there’s going to be a lot of positives that are going to come from this time off.”

He no longer sits on barstools, which are bad for his posture. He avoids carrying a backpack while traveling. And he said the time at home was good for him too.

During that time off, he finished his psychology degree at Wake Forest University. He only needed to complete a few electives, including one where he built a LinkedIn page and a resume. But those younger Demon Deacons don’t have to worry about competing with Zalatoris in the job market– unless they have a career on the Tour in the future. With his health restored, Zalatoris is confident he can return to being the player who was No. 8 in the world at the time of his injury and knocking on the door at majors with six top-10s in his eight major appearances.

“I think this week is a lot of almost kind of R&D with let’s see how I feel going into the last round physically,” he said. “This week I’m going to be able to take a lot away from it, you know, regardless of how I play.”

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