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Why does an emotional win by a guy like Peter Malnati resonate with golf fans? Let Peter Malnati explain

March 27, 2024
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Douglas P. DeFelice

Peter Malnati could not hold back the tears he knew were coming, as he tried to explain the gravity of what he just did. “You wonder if you are ever going to do it again,” Malnati said on Sunday, minutes after capturing the Valspar Championship for his second career tour win but first in almost a decade. “Because it’s hard. And in the nine years since my last year, it’s gotten harder too.” Malnati thanked his wife, his caddie, all those who believed in him when his self-belief was running low. He smiled as he held his son Hatcher, yet the drops continued to fall down his face. “But life is really hard too when you’re trying to live this lifestyle and have two kids and be everything you want to be,” Malnati explained. “This just feels so good. It feels so good.”

It was a moment that professional golf often promises but rarely delivers, how four days can alter someone’s life and career. But it also came at an interesting time, as the sport struggles to find meaning against the trappings of money and greed. Malnati’s performance, and subsequent response, was a reminder of why so many fans are drawn to this game in the first place.

Speaking Wednesday ahead of this week’s Texas Children’s Houston Open, Malnati was asked about that moment Sunday evening at Innisbrook, and if he was aware of why it resonated. Malnati’s response—below in its entirety—touched on the current divide between the game’s top levels and those that watch, while asserting his hope on how that dynamic can change.

“I think at the end of the day—do you remember like we can all probably remember when we were kids, and we were all kids at different times, but the things that moved us that we watched. I remember watching Jordan and the '97 Bulls, I remember watching Tiger in the 2000 Masters. I didn't care one iota what Jordan's contract was. I didn't care one iota what the winner's check at that U.S. Open was.

"And I think people are sick of that. I think people are just sick of the narrative in golf being 6 about, you know, contracts on LIV, purses on the Tour, guaranteed comp on the Tour. I think people are so sick of that. They want to see sport, they want to see -- they want to see people who are the best in the world at what they do do it at a high level and celebrate that, celebrate the athleticism, celebrate the achievement. Obviously this is a business and to the top players who drive a lot of the value in this business, we've got to compensate them fairly, we've got to make that happen.

"But I think we're doing that above and beyond, and the narrative, the storylines, the conversation needs to come back to the product on the course and what we do. I think for me that was like I just, I just feel like no kid dreamed when they were watching Jordan dreamed of having his salary, they didn't care about that. They dreamed of being in that moment, hitting that shot. I think that's what our fans care about too and that's what they want to see. I hope those tears that I was crying on that 18th green had nothing to do with my share of that, what was it, an $8.4 million purse last week. My tears had nothing to do with my share of that. I'm going to enjoy it and we're going to use it to do a lot of good in this world, but it had nothing to do with that. And I don't think our fans care about that either.

"I hope that connected with some people and I hope that that can be—I do think everyone out here who plays and competes would agree with me on that. I just hope that can be the story that we tell can come back to the best athletes in the world competing on the biggest stage in the world and doing it to show off this amazing skill that we have that can be so entertaining for people. I want that to be our story."

Malnati, 36, is one of the player directors for the PGA Tour, charged with guiding the circuit as it weighs a potential deal with LIV Golf’s financial backer, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. When asked his thoughts on the sport’s ambiguous future at the Players Championship, Malnati said, “I think something needs to happen for our sport. I would love to see a unified game where we can—it doesn't mean that—I want there to be different tours where guys can play, I want that, but I want to see a unified game where, when we have events like the Players Championship, that we have all the best players in the world and we're proud to call 'em PGA Tour members. That's what I want. I don't know how we get there, but that's what I want.”