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Underdogs win big at Valspar Championship

Mark Parker

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Harry Hall attempts to recover after hitting a ball into a hospitality tent Saturday at the Valspar Championship. Photos by Mark Parker.

Peter Malnati earned $1.5 million for his unexpected victory at the 2024 Valspar Championship. Local nonprofit organizations will receive nearly the same amount.

The self-billed “most colorful PGA (Professional Golf Association) Tour tournament in the world” concluded Sunday at the Innisbrook Golf Resort in Palm Harbor. Malnati, 36, finished two strokes ahead of Cameron Young to claim his first victory in nine years.

A late birdie propelled Malnati to a 4-under 67 in the final round and a 12-under 272 for the tournament on the Copperhead Course. The win secures the Knoxville, Tennessee resident a spot in April’s prestigious Masters Tournament.

“This moment has been my dream for over 20 years,” said Malnati, overcome with emotion. “And it’s because we have communities like Tampa, organizations like the Copperheads, sponsors like Valspar and places like Innisbrook who think the PGA Tour is important, that it matters and it’s cool.”

An emotional Peter Malnati hugs his son Hatcher, 4, after securing his first victory in 9 years Sunday. Screengrab, X (formerly Twitter).

Pinellas County’s Copperhead Charities has operated PGA Tour-sponsored events in the area since 1977. However, the first tournament came in the fall of 2000 before moving to the spring in 2007.

In July 2023, Copperhead Charities announced it had generated $50 million for Tampa Bay nonprofits. Tournament Director Tracy West noted that was $10 million more than the total prize money won by the top 25 golfers in the event’s history.

Over 2,000 volunteers help ensure the expansive, six-day event’s success. Nearly 130,000 people attended the 2023 Valspar Championship, and West said crowds were “somewhat larger than last year.”

“This is the Tampa Bay area’s largest single-week sporting event,” West told the Catalyst Monday. “And with the excellent weekend weather, and NBC and the Golf Channel’s superb coverage, it really was a showcase for our area from a visual standpoint.”

Alexander Bjork attempts to navigate the rough surrounding the Copperhead Course’s ninth hole.

The members-only organization includes over 200 business and civic leaders who pay dues and serve as tournament ambassadors. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer and Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronde Barber is the board’s co-chairperson.

The 2023 tournament raised nearly $1.2 million for local charities. Event organizers encouraged fans to bring a non-perishable food item to the gate Sunday. They collected over 5,000 pounds of food Feeding Tampa Bay last year.

“We are expecting to, once again, top $1 million in charitable donations when all is said and done,” West said. “Putting our total contributions as an organization near $52 million. That money goes to a wide variety of local charities – most notably Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties, The First Tee chapter in our Tampa Bay area and Tampa General Hospital.”

New for 2024 was a partnership with Folds of Honor, which provides scholarships to spouses and children of military members who were killed or disabled while serving the country. Organizers encouraged corporate partners and fans to make a $100 per birdie pledge on the fourth hole.

A hospitality area for military members, dubbed “Patriots Outpost,” overlooked the hole. Veterans and current servicemembers were also recognized at a concert Saturday night.

Country music star Cole Swindell performed for a massive crowd. The concert was one of myriad activities designed to expand the tournament’s reach beyond avid golf fans.

Some notable names like Jordan Spieth and Sam Burns (a two-time winner at Innisbrook) did not make it to the final rounds. The tournament still provided exciting golf, with payouts topping $8.4 million.

“There were nearly a dozen players in contention going down the stretch,” West noted. “Our staff, our interns, our volunteers, our Copperheads – all contributed to what I know was a very successful tournament.

“We are so proud to represent the Tampa Bay area on the PGA Tour, as we feel that this week further enhanced our status.”

In addition to crowds that annually top 120,000 people, the Golf Channel and NBC broadcast the tournament live to a national audience.

Robby Shelton hit a 258-yard albatross – a three-under-par – on the 14th hole Sunday to electrify the crowd. It was just the second such shot in tournament history.

However, the day belonged to Malnati. The 10-year pro, ranked No. 184 globally, had only one career victory – at the 2015 Sanderson Championship.

Malnati had also missed the cut in six of his last seven starts at the Valspar Championship. He was a 325-1 betting underdog to win the event.

He pulled away from Young over the final three holes at Copperhead, known as the Snake Pit. “I can’t think of very many times where I’ve actually teed off on Sunday realistically thinking of winning the tournament,” Malnati said.

After the final shot, Malnati’s son Hatcher, 4, ran across the green and into his father’s arms. Malnati said he’s watched other families share that moment and wondered if they “would ever have that experience.”

“That was so special,” he added. “It felt amazing.”

 

 

 

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1 Comment

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    John Donovan

    March 25, 2024at8:46 pm

    3 under par aka “double eagle”. It was an excellent competitive tournament.

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