RBC Heritage

Harbour Town Golf Links



valspar championship

With tears in his eyes, Peter Malnati reflected on his first win in 9 years, and is giddy about the doors it has opened

2110364350

Julio Aguilar

March 24, 2024

First there was the crying, and, boy, was Peter Malnati doing some good crying in the wake of his two-stroke victory Sunday at the Valspar Championship, his second win on the PGA Tour. His first came 3,059 days and two children ago. And then there was his rallying cry; the lone player director on the tour’s policy board who truly represents the little guy used his temporary platform to remind anyone who would listen that the game is full of little guys who cherish signature moments as much or more than signature events.

And then Malnati, a 36-year-old journeyman ranked 184th in the world, was his most charming, authentic self unwittingly walking the walk. His victory at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla., earned him his first invitation to the Masters Tournament. A childhood dream. He didn’t want to assume he’d be invited, but, he said, laughing, “I'll probably accept that invitation and go play the Masters. Yeah, I mean, I guess, yeah, that's cool. It hasn't sunk in yet at all because, I guess I'm going to be there in … when is it?”

What did he just say? When is it!?!

Perfect.

Malnati had been far from perfect in his previous visits to Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course, missing the cut in six of seven starts, but he was fairly flawless in outdueling Cameron Young down the stretch to win for the first time since the 2015 Sanderson Farms Championship.

With a no-look birdie at the 12th to complete a string of three birdies in a row—he closed his eyes because he thought he’d left it short—and a seeing-eye 5-iron that set up the go-ahead six-foot birdie at the par-three 17th, Malnati carded a closing four-under 67 and completed 72 holes in 12-under 272.

In between, he fashioned a two-putt par at the difficult 16th hole by taking advantage of the rules and getting a free drop from a difficult lie in the rough when he found a sprinkler head was interfering with his stance. Luck always seems to have some say in the outcome of a tournament.

Young, the 2022 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, was the hard-luck loser, settling for his seventh runner-up on the tour without a win. Ranked 23rd in the world, the New York native three-putted the final hole when he needed a birdie and finished at 10-under 274 despite shooting all four rounds in the 60s, including a final-round 68.

What brought Malnati to tears was not that he won $1.512 million or that he is now eligible for the remaining signature events of the season, but that he had won after putting in all the hard work and that he had won with his wife Alicia and their two sons in attendance. His immediate post-round interview was some of the greatest blubbering you’ll ever witness, produced by a grateful man who appreciates the opportunity to do what he does for a living. It came from the heart.

“I can’t describe … it’s just amazing,” he said between sniffles. “I’m just so thankful, so thankful. … It just feels so good.”

It felt good for a good reason. “That moment of winning a tournament and having your family come out on the green and the big hugs and all that, that's something that I've seen other families have and that has been my dream,” said Malnati, who plays a yellow ball because his son, Hatcher, took a liking to it. “There's been a lot of stretches of golf in the last nine years when I wondered if I would ever have that experience.

“It was really validating for just all the hard work, all the times I've gotten on that plane and flown away from my family when they have stayed home. It was all preparing for that moment.”

He certainly wasn’t going to let the moment go without having something more to say. The Valspar Championship is one of the “other” tournaments on the PGA Tour. It comes on the heels of the $20 million Arnold Palmer Invitational and the tour’s flagship event, the Players, which pays out $25 million. Its purse is a still-plentiful $8.4 million, but other than a handful of recognizable stars—Young, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele and Sam Burns—most of the top-tier guys took a pass.

2110373580

Douglas P. DeFelice

Malnati simply wanted to point out that the “swing” events, as the tour refers to the non-signature variety, are valuable, too. For a variety of constituencies. He first broached the subject during the trophy ceremony and then was asked to repeat the gist of his message, which he did at length. An abbreviated version (yes, this is the abbreviated version) went like this:

“I don't know specifically what is being said about me, about the PGA Tour, about our sport in general, but I know the direction that it has been going for the last couple years,” said Malnati, who mentioned that he has eschewed social media and is happier for it. “And when I was outside, I was compelled to say this. I feel like this win, this win is, you know, first and foremost, it is, it's for me, it's for my family, it's for my caddie, it's for my team of people who support me.

“On a larger scale it's also, it's for Tampa, it's for the Copperheads, it's for Valspar, and it's for all the events on the PGA Tour who find themselves in this new ecosystem kind of wondering where they fit and if they matter. … If we don't have communities that believe in what the PGA Tour does and sponsors who support what the PGA Tour does, we don't have those moments.

“I know that the narrative turns a lot to we're coming up to Augusta, we're preparing for the majors, we're in that season. In terms of the actual people who participate in golf at the highest level, 90 percent of us dream of the moment that I just had. There's a 10 percent that really do probably gear their schedules and focus on the majors, but 90 percent of the people who have made it to the top level of professional golf and a hundred percent of the people who dream of being at the top level of professional golf, live for that moment that I just had. It's amazing. … So this win is for all the host organizations, all the title sponsors, all the communities that kind of wonder, you know, what the meaning of their event is.”

There is no question what it meant to Peter Malnati. His show of appreciation was a far cry from the ordinary. Now it's on to the Masters. Whenever that is. First, though, he was going to Houston. He promised to be "amped up." You knew he meant it.