Defending champion Peter Malnati was in Jackson Monday to help launch promotion of the 2016 Sanderson Farms Championship, Mississippi’s stop on the PGA Tour.

But first Malnati had some unfinished business.

Malnati, a 29-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn., Monday morning visited the maintenance barn at the Country Club of Jackson where course superintendent Stanley Ready had gathered his work crew, mostly the same crew that toiled around the clock for nearly all a 72-hour weekend last November.

“I just want to say thank you to you guys,” Malnati said. “I will never forget what you did for me last year. With all the rain we had, it was a miracle – and a credit to your hard work – that we were able to play four rounds. A lot of the pros couldn’t believe the tournament wasn’t called after two rounds. Some were mad that it wasn’t called after two or three rounds.

“Y’all might not remember this, but I was not leading after the second and third rounds. If we hadn’t played the fourth, I wouldn’t have won. I’ll never be able to thank you enough.”

Northeast Jackson was inundated by more than 10 inches of rain during the last week of October and the first week of November last year. The CCJ course was saturated, turning sand traps into small ponds and fairways into rivers. Ready’s crew worked overnight twice to get the course playable for a third round on Sunday and a fourth round on Monday.

Malnati shot a final round 67 to win by a single shot over both David Toms and William McGirt. It was Malnati’s first and only PGA Tour victory, worth $738,000 and more importantly what amounts to a three-year tour exemption.

“It wasn’t just that you got the course playable,” Malnati told the course workers. “These greens you have here are as good as any we play anywhere on the tour, and they were absolutely perfect for those last two rounds. I could not believe how good they were with all that rain.”

Malnati’s magic on the greens was what won it for him. He made 495 feet, 7 inches worth of putts, and had the seventh best 72-hole putting performance since the tour began keeping such statistics in 2004. Malnati finished 104th on the 2016 FedEx Cup points list but said, “I didn’t play my best golf this spring and summer, but it started coming around at the end of the season when I made the last three cuts. I really believe a lot of hard work is about to pay off.

The 2016 Sanderson Farms Championship will move up a week on the PGA Tour schedule and be held Oct. 24-30 — for the third time at Country Club of Jackson.

Tournament officials love the new dates for two reasons: 1) a week earlier means a slightly better chance for warmer, dryer weather; and 2) more importantly, the switch back from daylight savings time occurs Nov. 6, a week after the tournament.

“It’s a lot easier to start a golf tournament at 7 a.m. than 6 a.m.,” said the tournament’s executive director, Steve Jent.

Jent said sponsorship and pro-am sales are ahead of this time last year. The club course once again is in immaculate condition and will feature higher, thicker rough than a year ago. Jent will spend much of the next five weeks, trying to attract players to play in Jackson. Already, Toms, a 13-time PGA Tour winner has indicated he will return.

Despite the weather problems, Century Club Charities, the tournament’s non-profit host organization, was able to donate more than $1.1 million to Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital.

And that brings us to the second part of Malnati’s unfinished business Monday. He and his wife, Alicia Malnati, spent Monday afternoon visiting patients at Batson.

“It puts everything in perspective for you,” Peter Malnati said. “I haven’t had a good season and golf can beat you up pretty bad. There’s been a lot of disappointment, some sleepless nights, and then you go visit those kids and you see what they and their families are battling, and you say to yourself, ‘Hey, I’ve got it pretty good.’”

Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Read his previous columns. Read his Sports Daily blog

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.

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