‘People are sick of the narrative’: Why Peter Malnati’s heartfelt message hit home

Peter Malnati thinks fans are sick of the narrative floating around around professional golf. Here’s why he has a point.

The post ‘People are sick of the narrative’: Why Peter Malnati’s heartfelt message hit home appeared first on Golf.

Peter Malnati thinks fans are sick of the narrative floating around around professional golf. Here’s why he has a point.

The post ‘People are sick of the narrative’: Why Peter Malnati’s heartfelt message hit home appeared first on Golf.

Peter Malnati knows who he’s not.

“I kind of joked when I saw my pairing come out, ‘Yeah, makes sense they’re putting all the best ball-strikers on Tour in a group, they want to see us out there just have a ball-striking contest, me and Scottie and Will, it will be great.’”

He was referring to his playing partners at this week’s Texas Children’s Houston Open, Scottie Scheffler and Will Zalatoris, two of the Lone Star State’s biggest and brightest pros. In the last four years, Scheffler and Zalatoris have 14 top-eight finishes in 23 combined major starts. Malnati, a decade their senior, has played three majors in his career and never made a cut.

But things are different now.

Malnati’s career changed on Sunday when he rallied on the back nine at the Valspar Championship for a two-stroke victory and just the second title of his PGA Tour career. The win catapulted him to No. 65 in the world, his first time inside the top 100. It earned him a two-year Tour exemption. It earned him an invite to the Masters. He’ll be in the Tour’s Signature Events the rest of the season, too. And of course there was the winner’s check for $1.51 million.

But what resonated with golf fans was the winning moment and the tearful interview that Malnati gave on the 18th green in the minutes following his victory.

“You wonder if you’re ever going to do it again, because it’s hard,” he told NBC’s Kira Dixon, holding his son in his arms. He spoke of his caddie, of his wife, of his kids, of his gratitude. “Life is hard. It’s obviously glamorous at times like this, and this is my dream job, and it’s absolutely amazing. But life is really, really hard, too, when you’re trying to figure out how to live this lifestyle and have two kids and be everything that you want to be, it’s really hard … this just feels so good.”

The Valspar was hardly the talk of the sports world over the weekend. We’re in the lull between the Players Championship and the Masters, the field was decent but not great, the list of Sunday contenders lacked star power and the opening rounds of March Madness dominated viewership and discourse.

Still, Malnati’s moment hit home with viewers. His interview made the rounds on social media. There was a depth to the story to which people connected; it was clearly a career-changing moment, and the real-time appreciation Malnati showed proved that the moment mattered in a different sort of way than, say, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler’s dramatic victory at TPC Sawgrass just a week earlier.

Malnati said he heard from “I can’t tell you how many people” in the days that followed. So why’d he think it left such a mark? It was clear from his answer that he’s thought a lot about it.

“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,” he said during his Wednesday press conference in Houston. “I remember watching [Michael] 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 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 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.”

The multi-billion dollar question, then: Is he right? Is a story like Malnati’s the sort of thing fans crave? And should the Tour be structured to prioritize those stories?

It’s a salient question as the professional golf world ponders its future. It’s a salient question as the PGA Tour decides how many players should be in its fields, how many of its fields should be limited and how — and how much — players should be paid for their services. It’s a salient question as golfers get paid more and more without any evidence, as of yet, that more money leads to more viewers. And it’s a salient question given Malnati is a member of the Tour’s Policy Board, which is currently tasked with finding an answer.

Malnati’s press conference remarks made the rounds on Wednesday, once again finding their mark with an audience fed up with talk of money and greed. But there were also commenters who weren’t sold on their premise. The Valspar’s ratings were down, after all. How much did his win resonate, really?

On one hand, connecting Malnati’s emotional moment to the tournament’s sagging TV ratings misses the point. On Sunday, his coronation (which ran up against NCAA hoops) came just moments before the broadcast went off-air; viewers wouldn’t have known that his win is what they were waiting around to see. And it was pretty clear that the win did resonate with those who were watching, marking a win for the Tour, as it’s nice to leave your audience on a good note. They might consider coming back.

On the other hand, ratings have dipped fairly consistently in 2024. A story like Malnati’s is terrific as a part of the fabric of the Tour, but the Tour can’t be built around Cinderella stories; fans respond to meaningful tournaments at familiar courses featuring leaderboards comprised of players they know. When some of golf’s well-known players departed for LIV, it hurt the Tour they left behind, and even feel-good stories can’t immediately fill that void. This is the big leagues, after all, and Malnati himself recognized that on Wednesday: “Four days ago no one cared if Peter Malnati was in their field or not, really,” he said.

So what can we take from Malnati’s moment? It’s pretty simple, really, and it’s the same lesson we keep learning: Sports work when they matter. And they can’t matter to a viewer unless they matter to the competitors. LIV has big money and big stars and a reimagined format but has not produced many resonant moments. The Tour’s big-money Signature Events haven’t flopped but they haven’t soared, either. Outside of the majors, golf’s biggest events still need to feel bigger. Bigger consequences. Bigger meaning. Bigger moments on bigger stages that can inspire kids to want to imagine themselves in those moments on those stages. Moments that can be earned and aspired to and celebrated when achieved.

That’s Malnati’s lesson, then, as the Tour keeps thinking bigger: The little guy can still play an important role.

Dylan welcomes your comments at dylan_dethier@golf.com.

The post ‘People are sick of the narrative’: Why Peter Malnati’s heartfelt message hit home appeared first on Golf.