The putt slid an inch – make that a millimetre – outside the left edge of the cup. Will Zalatoris squatted into a low crouch and let go of the putter, feeling it slide off the back of his shoulder and onto the turf. He bounced his hands off the green then cupped them over his face.
That's what agony looks like on a golf course. And even if it seems all but certain that Zalatoris is destined to win a major one day – probably soon – Sunday at the U.S. Open was the most excruciating of his ever-growing list of close calls.
"I thought I had it," Zalatoris said after his miss left him one shot and less than an inch from a play-off with the champion, Matt Fitzpatrick.
We've heard that before.
Zalatoris shot one-under 69 to lose by a stroke. This second-place finish comes a mere four weeks after he finished second at the PGA Championship in a loss to Justin Thomas in a play-off. And less than 15 months after finishing second at the Masters by one shot to Hideki Matsuyama.
In all, this marked his sixth top-10 finish in the majors since Zalatoris made his debut at the U.S. Open two years ago. He is 25, has been on the PGA Tour for less than two years and now has runner-up finishes in three of golf's four biggest tournaments.
"I'm three shots away from having a chance of being a three-time major champion," Zalatoris said.
RIGHT: Zalatoris congratulates new major champion Matt Fitzpatrick on the 72nd green. PHOTO: USGA.
"A bounce here or there."
Oh, those bounces.
He and Fitzpatrick were tied as they walked onto the 15th tee, a 500-yard, par-4 monster with a blind drive over a hill. Fitzpatrick blocked his drive wildly to the right. Zalatoris missed his, too, but not as badly.
When they arrived at the balls, Fitzpatrick's was sitting on a thin area trampled down by the gallery. Zalatoris' was gnarled in 4-inch high, lush grass.
Fitzpatrick made a birdie from there; Zalatoris made bogey. He couldn't overcome that two-shot swing.
"Matt played great. And yeah, it was a great experience. So you just say, 'Yeah, we'll get him next time,'" Zalatoris' caddie Ryan Goble said.
Zalatoris came to The County Club on Sunday wearing a shirt dotted with silhouettes of Frances Ouimet and his 10-year-old caddie, Eddie Lowery. It was Ouimet's stirring victory here in 1913 that helped put golf on the map in America.
"I'm three shots away from having a chance of being a three-time major champion. A bounce here or there." - Will Zalatoris.
After 11 holes, Zalatoris was in position to join the likes of Ouimet, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and all the rest among the pantheon of US Open champions.
He made 18-foot birdie putts on 9 and 11 to open a two-shot lead. He gave a shot back on the 12th. Then, after driving the ball wildly on 13, he answered a long Fitzpatrick birdie with a 12-foot par save of his own to keep the match tied.
But the biggest putt of all slid by.
Zalatoris said he took some solace in that he didn't miss any short putts, the likes of which have hurt him in his previous close calls, and he didn't three-putt all week.
And he made it through 72 holes of the toughest test in golf without a double-bogey.
"So the recipe's there. The game's there," Zalatoris added.
"But like I said, I've just got to wait my turn."