Soon to be a father, Malnati hopes to deliver a win in Houston
October 11, 2019
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Peter Malnati sinks 23-footer for birdie at Houston Open
HOUSTON – Later this month, Peter Malnati will become a father. His wife Alicia is due on Oct. 26, and whether their first child is a boy or a girl remains a surprise until the delivery. For the last couple of months, they’ve been making preparations to turn their new house into, as Peter says, a home.
So it’s understandable that he’s been a little distracted lately inside the ropes. His results reflect it. He ended last season with a pair of missed cuts, then started the 2019-20 season with a Saturday WD due to a bad back, a T45 finish at the Sanderson Farms Championship, and consecutive missed cuts in his last two starts. Entering this week, he hadn’t broken 70 in his last eight rounds.
Already planning to take the next five weeks off, Malnati wondered if he should even be playing the Houston Open.
“The last couple weeks I've let it be a distraction in that I haven't really prepared the way I normally would because my head's back home. I want to be home,” Malnati said. “This week I was like, 'dude, this is your last tournament before you become a dad, like do something with it.'
“The best thing you can do for your wife and your kid is to go out and play good.”
So he did.
Malnati shot a 3-under 69 on Thursday, followed by a bogey-free 7-under 65 on Friday morning at the Golf Club of Houston. That leaves him at 10 under. When play was suspended due to darkness, Malnati held a one-shot lead over Talor Gooch, who has five holes remaining in his second round.
Given the windy conditions that kicked in in mid-morning after a 2-hour rain delay, the field average soared to nearly 73 for those with an early tee time. That means Malnati’s 65 was nearly 8 strokes better than the field.
His caddie Chad Antus, who has been on the bag for about 2-1/2 seasons, called it the best round he had seen Malnati play. The only other round worthy of a comparison was the 10-under 62 that Malnati shot at the 2018 Korn Ferry Tour Championship, a round that included an eagle and 10 birdies.
“Given the conditions of the course and everything else going on,” Antus said, “this round today was No. 1.“
While the next few weeks certainly will be exciting, Malnati is now in position to make the next two days exciting, too, as he chases his second career PGA TOUR win. He won the Sanderson Farms four years ago.
“I practiced with a lot more focus this week and it's nice to see that that does result in some better golf for me,” he said. “Yes, my head is definitely a little bit elsewhere, but again, the best thing even after the kid comes, when I do decide me and my wife decide it's time for me to go play again -- the best thing I can do when I'm at a tournament is focus on the tournament.
“That's what they need me to do, so that's what I'm trying to do this week. It's beyond words to say I'm 98% excited, 2% terrified, all of that is definitely at play right now. My wife's the best and she's going to be the best mother, so we're going to handle things all right back home.”
Perhaps Friday is an indication that he’s handling things inside the ropes too.
Last season, Malnati’s only top-10 finish in 26 starts last season was in a team event, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, when he and Billy Hurley III were T9. But he was steady enough to make the FedExCup Playoffs and keep his TOUR card, actually improving his status from the previous year when he missed the Playoffs.
In some ways, though, it was a breakthrough season for Malnati. He cites two areas of improvement – improved iron play and increased distance off the tee. On Friday, he said he “drove the ball beautifully” and was excited to see where he ranked in the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, a statistic in which he’s never ranked better than 150th in the previous four seasons and generally gives up strokes to the field.
When play was suspended for darkness Friday, Malnati ranked seventh in the field in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, picking up 1.468 shots. The previous day, he had lost 2.400 strokes to the field off the tee.
“I'm not a huge guy into stats,” he said. “At the end of the day, there's only one that matters and that's score and I had a good one of those today, but I do like to look at my driving stats and they've been really, really a weakness for me for a year.”
What a story it would be if Malnati could pull off a win in Houston this weekend. What better way to enter fatherhood than with a shiny new trophy to show his child.
“Most kids, when they kick it around at their home course growing up, they're dreaming about that putt to win the Masters or that putt to win the U.S. Open or that putt to win THE PLAYERS Championship or something like that,” Malnati said.
“I always took that dream one step farther. My dream, I used to as a little kid, I would watch and you would 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. That to me, that's where the dream really is. That was the dream stuff.
“I already 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. But the idea of actually being a father and then one day 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.”