Malnati’s win at Valspar was a lifestyle-changer

Now Peter Malnati will stand out for more than just playing with a yellow ball. (Joy Sarver Photos)

PALM HARBOR, Florida — “Cinderella Story’’ is a term used way too much in the sports world. Peter Malnati certainly fit that description when he won the Valspar Championship on Sunday, however.

Here was a 10-year member of the PGA Tour getting his second victory nine years after capturing his first. In seven previous Valspars he had made the cut only once. He had played in only three major championships but now he’s expecting his first invitation to the upcoming Masters.

There was no reason to think Malnati could win the Valspar.  This season he missed four cuts in eight starts, shot 81 in the last round of The Players Championship the week before his win on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort and had only one top-10 – a tie for ninth at the Cognizant Classic of the Palm Beaches, the first of the four events on the Florida Swing.

Until Sunday Malnati was notable mainly for being one of the few players to use a yellow instead of a white golf ball.  At least it seemed appropriate for a player with a colorful ball winning the “most colorful event on the PGA Tour.’’

There’s a lot more to Peter Malnati than being a PGA journeyman who finally ended a winless dryspell, however.  Malnati is a photogenic guy with an infectious smile. That’s a good thing, because he’ll likely be taking interviews for something more than being a PGA Tour champion in the coming weeks.

Malnati, 36, has recently been named one of six player directors on the PGA Tour Policy Board. He’ll be closely involved with the seemingly endless negotiations toward a merger of the PGA Tour and the LIV Golf League.

Malnati was all smiles en route to his first win in nine years, but he also showed his serious side.

He didn’t make any political statements on that issue during his speech at the Valspar trophy presentation on the course, but he opened up a bit in a more in-depth session afterwards.

“I’ll say something in here that I didn’t say out there because I think it’s important and relevant,’’ said Malnati. “When my son Hatcher was born in 2019 I removed all my social media from my phone.  I don’t do social media anymore, and I’m a happier person because of it.  Not that it’s bad, social media isn’t bad.  But for me I didn’t use it particularly well because I always read comments and I wanted to use it to be interactive.  It wasn’t healthy for me, so I removed it.’’

The result is that Malnati doesn’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.’’

His feelings about the influx of bigger money, smaller field events seemed clear.  That concept has a downside.  On the Florida Swing the Cognizant Classic of the Palm Beaches and Valspar weren’t weren’t signature events like the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Players Championship.

The API had a $20 million purse and The Players $25 million.  The Cognizant was at $9 million and the Valspar at $8.4 million. That’s a big discrepancy.

“We don’t have tournaments to play in if we have communities that think these tournaments don’t matter,’’ said Malnati. “I just want them to know that every event on the PGA Tour matters because it matters to the community where you play, and we’re going to make a difference. That  was something I felt like I needed to say.’’

Malnati won’t take a week off to celebrate his win.  He’ll tee it up in the $9.1 million Texas Children’s Hospital Houston Open this week. After that comes the $9.2 million Valero Texas Open.

Those are the lead-ins to the Masters, first of the year’s major championships with a hefty purse that won’t be announced until the week of the event, and the $20 million RBC Heritage Classic.

Malnati can play in all of them now.

“That’s really important,’’ he said.  “We put an emphasis – and I think rightfully so – on getting the top players in the world to play together more often. I have work to do to consider myself in that group.’’

Malnati found a swing that works after some years of struggling on the PGA Tour.