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For Peter Malnati, nothing will eclipse his first Masters moment, which could get even better

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Peter Malnati was expecting a letdown when he finally played Augusta National leading into this week’s Masters.

It never came.

“I had high expectations for it,” Malnati said, “and it exceeded them.”

Malnati, the 36-year-old Masters first-timer, earned his way into this prestigious major tournament by capturing the Valspar Championship a few weeks ago. For years Malnati had rejected more than a few invitations to play the legendary Alister Mackenzie design, wanting to do so only when he was a competitor.

“At 36, it was still an easy no because I always believed I would have this moment,” said Malnati, one of 20 debutants this week.

Now, that moment is here. Malnati is a journaler, and so he charted out the plan for his eight daily tickets, a list that filled up quickly and includes his financial adviser, whom he met when they were paired together in a U.S. Amateur qualifier in 2009. His 4-year-old son, Hatcher, walked the entire front nine of his dad’s practice round on Monday, and he’s slated to caddie for Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest.

Malnati even brought his own glasses to watch the solar eclipse, the eclipse’s maximum obscuration occurring at 3:08 p.m. in Augusta, just minutes after Malnati’s interview session. He put them on and looked up as he explained how Hatcher had learned about the eclipse at school, and how Hatcher was “distraught” that he didn’t have glasses, so Malnati went on Amazon and purchased a few pairs to pack.

“He’s going to be wearing his eclipse glasses for days just looking up at the sun now,” Malnati joked, while adding: “I don’t think I’ll ever forget the ’24 eclipse happened on Monday at the Masters, my first Masters, so the two memories will be connected.”

As a newcomer, Malnati understands that history does not bode well for his kind – Fuzzy Zoeller, in 1979, is the last player to win in his Masters debut. But he also notes that his game sets up well for this test. Malnati ranks fourth on Tour in strokes gained putting, No. 59 in approach and No. 78 around the greens, which help explain his No. 42 standing in terms of total strokes gained.

Malnati doesn’t believe his lack of experience will hurt him, so long as he executes his game plan.

“If I can get all my awe out of the way early in the week, my game fits the course superbly … absolutely, like, perfectly,” Malnati said. “It’s my first Masters. Rookies historically don’t do awesome here. I go into it expecting to do my best and expecting that to give me a chance.

“But I certainly don’t think there’s anything about the course that is going to give me issues if I’m playing well.”

Malnati’s reoccurring golf nightmare is a golf hole cut on top of a table.

“And I can’t get my ball to stay on top of it,” Malnati said. “I feel like that could almost actually come true out here, so I’m going to be thankful I haven’t had that dream lately.”

Right now, he’s too busy living this current one.