On baby watch, Malnati leads Houston Open – but he may not finish it

Brentley Romine

HUMBLE, Texas – Peter Malnati wasn’t like most kids.

While his friends and fellow aspiring pro golfers would dream about sinking a putt to win the Masters or the U.S. Open, a young Malnati was imagining much more.

“As a little kid, I would watch and see these guys hole out to win the big tournaments, and their wife and their little kids would just come running out on the green,” he said.

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“To me … that was the dream stuff.”

Malnati will soon have the final piece to the puzzle to make realizing that dream possible. He and his wife, Alicia, are expecting their first child two weeks from Saturday.

“But she is beyond ready,” added Malnati.

Alicia is back home in Knoxville, Tenn., while Peter is here in Houston. Of course, after a 7-under 65 in brutally-windy conditions Friday at the Golf Club of Houston, he is also in contention, which puts Malnati, the leader by one at 10 under and in the clubhouse when played was called for darkness, in quite the predicament.

“I’m fully on call,” Malnati said. “I didn't know if I was going to come play here or not. [Alicia is] always encouraging me to play and she has all the media officials' phone numbers, so if someone has to come get me off the course this week, they will.”

If Baby Malnati – the couple decided to wait until the birth to find out the baby’s gender – holds off for a couple of days, Daddy will have a chance to end a lengthy slump in a big way.

Malnati hasn’t recorded a top-10 on Tour since the 2016 Tournament of Champions, which he qualified for after winning his first Tour title, at the Sanderson Farms Championship the previous fall. After keeping his card last season by finishing 118th in FedExCup points, Malnati has two missed cuts, a WD and a T-45 (at Sanderson) while playing every event this fall.

The 32-year-old was honest in admitting that the impending arrival of his first child has him “98 percent excited, 2 percent terrified.” He also revealed that it has affected his preparation for tournaments.

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But this week, he’s tried to finally have a different mindset: His heart is still back home, but his mind is on golf.

“I was like, ‘Dude, this is your last tournament before you become a dad, like do something with it,’” he told himself.

Malnati has flipped the switch from future dad to competitor nicely through 36 holes of the Houston Open. He opened in 3-under 69 before playing the first five holes Friday in 5 under with a 22-foot eagle make at the par-5 fourth.

That’s when play was called for inclement weather, storms that brought along 30 mph wind gusts and much cooler temperatures. When Malnati returned to the course, he went from playing in near-perfect conditions to downright difficult ones, but you wouldn’t have known it by his play.

Malnati didn’t make a bogey the rest of the way while adding birdies at Nos. 9 and 15, which, as he said, was “more than he could have ever hoped for.”

“The wind really messes with me,” Malnati said. “I know it makes it difficult for everyone, but it really tends to mess with what is one of my strengths. … But I was really pleased with the way I hit a lot of the putts in the wind.”

Back home, Alicia is likely just as pleased watching her husband chase his second Tour victory – even if she may have to summon him home before the event ends.

Should that happen, Malnati is prepared. After all, he fully expects to be in this position many more times … as a dad.

“I won a Korn Ferry Tour event with my wife caddying for me, I won a big amateur event with my mom caddying for me, so I've gotten to have some of those kind of family moments at the end of a tournament,” Malnati said. “But the idea of actually being a father and then one day, you know, hopefully having my kids get to see me do what I love to do, which is this, and hopefully do it well is something that I kind of get emotional even just thinking about that.

“That’s going to be so awesome for me.”

The dream stuff.

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