TULSA, Okla. – Sleep may not come easy tonight for the top four players on the PGA Championship leaderboard. They’re not just looking for their first major. They’re all seeking a maiden win on the PGA TOUR.
The quartet of Mito Pereira, Matt Fitzpatrick, Will Zalatoris and Cameron Young have never won a major championship. In fact, they’ve yet to win on the PGA TOUR at all. All that can change on Sunday at Southern Hills.
And while the four most likely to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy have a combined zero PGA TOUR wins, the reality is they’ve all shown a history of getting the job done.
Pereira, a rookie who was on the Korn Ferry Tour this time last year, took control of the tournament in Saturday’s third round with his 1-under 69 pushing him out to 9-under 201. It was good enough for a three-shot lead over Fitzpatrick (67) and Zalatoris (73), while Young is four back after shooting 67.
Pereira, the 27-year-old Chilean, is playing his first PGA Championship and is seeking to replicate Collin Morikawa (2020) by winning it on his maiden try.
While he admits nerves will play a part in his quest for glory, Pereira has a long history of winning throughout the pathways to the TOUR. He won in his first year on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica before earning a three-win promotion from the Korn Ferry Tour last year.
Pereira will not try to contemplate what’s at stake Sunday – like being the first player from Chile to win a major. Rather, he will use the brain training he picked up from his mental coach to vanquish all unwanted thoughts.
The methods of Eugenio Lisama, who also works with F1 racers and soccer players, helped the Chilean find balance during the third round as he made four bogeys in a five-hole stretch around the turn. Rather than unravel completely, Pereira was able to quiet his mind and nail three birdies in his final six holes to stretch his lead.
“It was a tough place to be at that moment. … I was not playing really bad in those bogeys, so it was not like I was losing my confidence, ”Pereira said. “Tonight, I’ll try to disconnect a little bit. … Doesn’t matter if it’s your first time or your 10th time, if you play really, really well you’re going to have chances. ”
Fitzpatrick is now stranger to winning, either. The Englishman has seven wins on the DP World (formerly European) Tour and is a former US Amateur winner. But the majors have thus far eluded him, as has a win on the PGA TOUR. A tie for seventh in the 2016 Masters remains his only major top-10.
“I’ve talked about it with my coaches at length about my major record,” he said. “I’ve always just said to them, I just want to give myself a chance because I back myself at the end of the day. I feel like whenever I’ve had a chance in Europe, I’ve played very well. ”
Fitzpatrick expects to chill Saturday night by pretending to watch the NBA Playoffs with housemate Thomas Pieters while he scrolls through his smart phone. For Zalatoris, the Miami-Boston game is also of importance. Not because he follows one of the teams, but because he wants to stay up late so he can sleep late before his afternoon tee time.
The Texan has a large community of major winners ready to help should he feel like some advice. He grew up around Lanny Wadkins and Lee Trevino and his Texas TOUR buddies include four-time major winner Jordan Spieth and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler.
“Just stick to my game,” Zalatoris said. “Got nothing to lose tomorrow. I know I’m playing some really good golf, and hopefully at the end of the day it adds up to the lower score. Everybody’s got to go out and earn it. ”
Just like the others, Zalatoris is no stranger to winning. He has a KFT title to his name and has threatened to win on TOUR many times. The 25-year-old was close earlier this year at the Farmers Insurance Open, losing to Luke List in a playoff.
Zalatoris has four top-10s in his seven major appearances, including a runner-up finish at last year’s Masters. While he led the field in Strokes Gained: Putting over the first two rounds, Zalatoris slipped on the greens Saturday. He will need his best stuff on Sunday.
And then there is Young, Zalatoris’ former Wake Forest teammate, who drove the 17th hole Saturday and buried a 24-foot eagle putt to rocket into the mix. Like Pereira, Young was on the Korn Ferry Tour a year ago. Winning the PGA Championship would be extra special because his father is a PGA of America professional and the head pro at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Scarborough, New York. That’s where Cameron learned the game from the age of four. It was where he would jump off the train from school, grab a wedge and balls, and milk the last minutes of daylight to hone his skills.
“It’s because of the PGA that he had the job he had for the last many years. Without that, at Sleepy Hollow I do not start playing at four years old. I do not have the access that I did growing up. I started playing in PGA junior events when I was eight or something like that, ”Young said. “I’ve been given so much access to golf because of that organization. So, to kind of have the chance to go from local PGA junior tournaments, national PGA juniors to Junior Ryder Cup, to even play in a PGA Championship is really cool for me.
He was known as a big-time winner on the New York amateur scene, becoming the youngest winner of the Westchester Amateur at 14, youngest winner of the Ike Championship at 18 – a title he successfully defended – and the first amateur to win the New York State Open in 2017. He got a scholarship to join Zalatoris at Wake Forest, where he won twice as a freshman and was a three-time all-conference performer. Young had to Monday qualify his way to Korn Ferry Tour status before, like Pereira, winning back-to-back starts on the KFT.
He’s quickly established himself on TOUR, posting three runners-up this season, ranking 14th in the FedExCup and becoming a top-50 player in the world. A win is next for one of the TOUR’s best drivers. Why not a major?
“To win this one specifically with my parents here this week would be pretty incredible,” Young said before admitting that he wouldn’t be picky when it came to winning one of golf’s Grand Slam events. “If I were to win a major championship, I would take any one of them.”
The others feel the same way.