Missouri golfer eager after offseason improvements

Thursday, September 20, 2007 | 9:14 p.m. CDT; updated 5:52 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008
MU junior Peter Malnati says he's learned how to handle pressure better than he did as a freshman.

COLUMBIA — As the summer concluded, Missouri’s Peter Malnati said he was on the brink of greatness. As the men’s golf season approached, he was finally comfortable with his role.

Malnati is a junior on a team that features five freshmen. He has taken on a leadership role for the Tigers and is looking to lead through his play. With two years left at Mizzou, he said he will not be satisfied until both he and his team achieve greatness.

So what is greatness? To Malnati, it’s not just a low round, it’s realizing his potential.

“To me greatness would be to go out every time, and say all the hard work I have been doing paid off,” he said. “I might never get there, but to come close would be nice.”

After the improvements he made this summer, he said this is a realistic goal. Back home in Dandridge, Tenn., during the summer, Malnati and his swing coach focused on his iron play, something he admits has been a weakness. Malnati and his coach went back to the basics.

“I’m hitting a lot of shots that I never hit before in my life,” Malnati said. “Really good iron shots that are covering the flag.”

When it comes to putting and chipping, Malnati considers his short game to be among the best. With recent improvements to his fairway shots and a short game that he considers among the best, Malnati said he sees bright things in the future.

“I haven’t put it all together at the same time,” he said. “I feel like it’s all there. I am working hard every day and hoping it happens soon. It’s continuing to get closer every day.”

Earlier this season, Malnati said he was as close as ever to his “greatness.” In a qualifying round, he shot 7-under on the last 12 holes to finish with a 66. Even after the round, he said there were still some putts he should have made down the stretch.

Malnati’s interest in golf was sparked when he was 6. His neighbor, who was an avid golfer in his 70s, would often take him out to the course. He never took the game seriously, however, until he was a freshman in high school. Before high school, he was just happy that his mom prepared muffins for him to eat on the course. Malnati dreamed of becoming a shortstop, but decided that he had a better future in golf.

“The Lord blessed me with talent and a good work ethic,” he said. “By the time I started my senior year, I was getting scholarship offers.”

After two years of golf at Mizzou, Malnati said he wants to lead his team to nationals. Coach Mark Leroux said Malnati has always been ready for a leadership role.

“He had leadership qualities when I recruited him,” Leroux said. “He came here very mature, and anyone who comes in contact with him, finds that out quickly.”

Freshman William Harrold must have received this same vibe. After the first week of practice, Harrold asked Leroux if Malnati was the team captain.

As a freshman, Malnati said he often put too much pressure on himself while trying to earn the respect of his teammates. In turn, this caused him to put up high numbers on the course. Now, he feels back in control of his game.

“After two years of doing it, I have realized that even before I put pressure on myself I am trying my absolute hardest,” Malnati said. “The pressure does nothing for me except make me nervous.”

Malnati has spent a good deal of time talking with freshman Will Hogan because both play a similar game. Hogan admits that he puts too much pressure on himself, but Malnati has been there to help.

“Pete has helped me make the transition from high school to college,” Hogan said. “He is a good leader with good morals. He is not afraid to tell you what he thinks.”

So far this season, Malnati said he is not satisfied. He has finished 36th in the first two tournaments of the season. Malnati said he cannot just play average golf.

“I am in a position right now where I need to be a leader for this team. It’s hard to lead if you are not playing well,” he said. “Not that I’m putting any added pressure on.”

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