Peter Malnati fulfills long-awaited dream at Valspar Championship

PALM HARBOR — Peter Malnati has been invited to Augusta over the years. He’s had people offer him tickets to go watch the Masters. The PGA Tour pro, ranked 184th in the world before this week’s Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Golf Resort, has had people offer him a chance to play on that hallowed course.

“I told them, ‘I want to go play Augusta when I’m in the Masters,’” Malnati said Sunday. “That’s when I want to go play Augusta.”

Sunday evening, Malnati finally earned that spot.

The 36-year-old Knoxville, Tennessee, resident had a brilliantly steady final round and late birdie to maneuver through a jammed leaderboard, finishing two strokes ahead of Cameron Young to win his first PGA Tour title in nearly nine years.

The win comes with a $1,512,000 prize and two-year exemption on the PGA Tour. Malnati also is assured of getting into the remaining four signature events with $20 million purses. And, of course, entrance into next month’s Masters.

But for Malnati, whose last Tour win came before his sons were born in 2019 and 2022, that was all just a bonus.

Sunday elicited all the emotions of one of the PGA’s biggest tournaments for the 11th-year Tour player whose last win was the Sanderson Farms Championship in November 2015.

“You wonder if you are ever going to do it again,” Malnati said through tears on the 18th green with his 4-year-old son, Hatcher, in his arms. “In the (eight) years since my last win, it’s getting harder.”

This weekend wasn’t any easier.

Malnati needed a final round of 4-under 67 to finish 12-under for the tournament, pulling away from Young, the 2021-22 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, over the final three holes of the Copperhead Course, known as the Snake Pit.

On the 16th hole, Malnati’s approach shot went long to the left of the green and into heavy rough, leaving him a tough play to try to save par and remain tied with Young. Malnati’s ball was near a sprinkler head, however, which allowed him a drop that put him on the fringe.

The break helped him save par and got him rolling.

On the par-3 17th, Malnati’s tee shot left him with a 6-foot putt, which he made for birdie to take the lead.

Meanwhile, in the group ahead of him, Young pulled his drive well off the 18th fairway into the trees and nearly behind the stands. He escaped the trouble with a tremendous shot to the lip of the green, but then three-putted for bogey.

“It was just a bad time for a pull,” said Young, who has seven runner-up finishes but continues to seek his first Tour win. “Trying to hit kind of the same, similar one that I hit off of 16 (where he made par). Not quite as dramatic of a cut, but just kind of started it on the wrong side of the wind, and it’s blowing pretty good off the right. So, yeah, just a bad time for a bad one.”

Malnati’s approach shot on 18 landed in the fairway bunker, but he got up onto the green and two-putted for par, setting up the moment he had been dreaming of for more than eight years.

It wasn’t the trophy or the trip to Augusta next month.

“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,” Malnati said, looking over to his wife Alicia and sons Hatcher, 4, and Dash, 1.

“There’s been a lot of stretches of golf in the last nine years when I wondered if I would ever have that experience. I’m at peace with who I am and the way I live and the work that I put into this. If I had never had the moment I had (Sunday), I would have been completely fine. But, man, was that special. That was so special. It felt amazing.”

Malnati took the microphone during the trophy presentation to say that in this turbulent time for golf when smaller tournaments are getting overlooked because of the addition of LIV Golf and the PGA’s enhanced signature events, events such as Valspar continue to be an important part of the Tour.

“I wanted the Copperheads and the people of Tampa and the people from Valspar to know that there are thousands of Peter Malnatis out there who are 10 years old right now, teenagers right now who dream of playing golf on the PGA Tour, and they want to have the moment that I just got to have,” Malnati said.

“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.”