Peter Malnati dug his spikes into the dirt of the driving range at Torrey Pines, unsure of himself.
It was Jan. 25, 2014, and Malnati, then 26, had missed the cut at the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open just the day before after getting “beat up” by the famed golf course.
It was a Saturday, a day of rest for most, but a day of restlessness for Malnati.
Weekends are when professional golfers do their heaviest lifting — when they win tournaments, earn exemptions, make money and make their names. Malnati, excluded from the final two rounds, wasn’t going to let a cut line dictate his playing schedule.
And so he swung … and swung … and swung, searching for the stroke which had vaulted him from lacking status on any professional golf tour in 2013 to a PGA Tour card in less than three months.
That’s when someone took the slot next to him at the driving range.
“Jason Day came out to warm up for his round, and he was hitting balls right next to me, and I thought ‘Oh my gosh, he’s so much better than me,’ ” Malnati said laughing. “It was incredible how good he was.”
Malnati, a Missouri grad, will tee off in the Web.com Tour’s Digital Ally Open at Nicklaus Golf Course at Lionsgate in Overland Park at 1:00 p.m. Thursday.
As for his confidence, Malnati got some later that season, when he was in a tie for third place and playing in the final round at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, Tenn. Malnati said he “didn’t do anything exceptional” in the tourney, but there he was in the second-to-last group.
“That to me was the moment I thought ‘I can do it. I don’t have to do anything special. I can compete at the highest level. I know I can do it,’ ” Malnati said.
Malnati went on to play in 18 events during his rookie year on the PGA Tour, making the cut in only five. He finished 178th in the FedEx Cup Standings. That was good enough for exempt status on the Web.com Tour but not good enough to retain his PGA card.
Now, almost a full year off the PGA Tour, he’s focused on the jouney back — a feat he has all but achieved with only four tournaments remaining in the Web.com’s regular season.
A victory at the Brasil Champions in Sao Paulo, Brazil — which earned Malnati $153,000, the biggest cash prize the Web.com offers — was a big boost.
That’s when he turned his eyes on a bigger prize.
The top 25 players on the Web.com money list earn automatic PGA Tour cards.
Malnati, 28, currently is in second place on the Web.com money list with $268,499.
“If you’re No. 1 on this tour’s money list, you get a lot more starts on the PGA Tour than if you’re anywhere else,” Malnati said. “So finishing No. 1 has been my motivating force for a little while now, and it definitely keeps me focused.”
Finishing in the top spot won’t be an easy task. Patton Kizzire is in first place by a margin of $123,200. Malnati could win the Digital Ally Open this weekend, and even if Kizzire fails to make the cut and earns $0, he’d still hold the lead on Malnati by a five-digit margin.
But Malnati says the gap will not discourage him, especially while spending time in and around Kansas City, a place he calls his “second hometown.”
It also happens to be the home of his favorite baseball team, the Royals.
After attending every World Series game last October, Malnati — who has a sponsorship agreement with MLB.com — will throw out the first pitch at Kaufmann Stadium on Friday night when the Royals open a three-game series with the Chicago White Sox.
The Fall Classic wasn’t the first time Malnati found his way to the K, but this go-round should be a little different.
“My wife and I, we had our rehearsal dinner there before our wedding,” Malnati said. “They let us down in the dugout, but wouldn’t let us step foot on the field.”
Malnati said he was more nervous watching game seven of the World Series from the stands than he will be when he feels the dirt of the mound at Kauffman.
“I’ll be a little uncomfortable because I don’t practice my pitching every day, I practice my golf every day,” Malnati said smiling.” I’ll just have those cool, excited butterflies going on Friday.
“I’ve been throwing some golf balls. I’ve got golf balls down but they’re a little lighter than baseballs, so we’ll just have to see if it transfers.”