Ryan Malby strains slightly, then gives up.
Anyone who has played golf before has wanted to wave the white flag at some point. But Malby’s grimace and surrender have nothing to do with bad putts or ugly shanks. He’s simply trying to remember all of the course records he’s broken and, at the moment, he can’t.
“I don’t know,” he says finally. “It’s a few.”
Malby, 38, is the head professional at Village Greens Golf Course in Kalispell. He has set course records across Western Montana, though he’s not sure how many still stand. But last year’s 61 at his home course still stands, and so does one other, likely the masterpiece of his career.
On July 7, Malby won Missoula’s Canyon River Golf Pro-Am by six strokes, shooting a 61 and breaking the course record. Malby’s score – 11-under par – was punctuated by three eagles. He said he’s never played that consistently well for a whole round.
“It was crazy,” he said the day after his magical round. “It was just one of those days. It was just perfect golf. I didn’t hole anything in or chip anything in, it was just straight-up, good golf.”
He added: “I’ll probably never shoot like that again.”
But, the thing is, Malby has shot almost that well since then. Later in July, he won pro-am tournaments in Seeley Lake and Butte with scores of 66 and 64. He also tied for eighth at the Rosauers Open Invitational in Spokane. Before all of that, Malby won his second straight Lake City Open in Polson back in May.
Malby has been on what sports people like to call a tear. And now that he’s torn through July, he has his sights set on September, when he will play in both the Montana Open and the Pacific Northwest PGA Professional Championship to cap off his 2010 professional season.
“Canyon River just kind of got the month started on the right track,” Malby said. “It kind of propelled me.”
As fate would have it, the Pacific Northwest PGA Professional Championship is held at Canyon River on Sept. 21-23. Malby said the championship bounces between the Pacific Northwest section’s represented states, coming to Montana every fifth year.
The top seven golfers at the sectional championship qualify for the PGA Professional National Championship in Pennsylvania next year. The top 20 finishers of that tourney qualify for the PGA Championship.
Malby won the Pacific Northwest title in 2006 and then finished second in 2007, qualifying for national tournaments in Oregon and Georgia.
“It’s awesome,” he said of participating in the national tournaments. “The Golf Channel’s out there and it’s just exciting.”
Malby is also the only Montanan since the 1990s to win the Montana Open, held this year on Sept. 10-12 at Larchmont Golf Course in Missoula. Malby won the tourney in 2005, and finished second in 2006 and 2007. All other winners in the last 10 years have come from Idaho, Washington and Nevada.
“I had a pretty good little three-year run,” Malby said.
As a senior at Flathead High School in 1990, Malby won the Class AA golf title. After that, he played at the University of Idaho before returning to Kalispell to serve as an assistant professional at Village Greens beginning in 1993. He became the head professional in the spring of 1997.
Over the years, Malby said he has set course records in Polson, Columbia Falls, Whitefish and Missoula, including a 63 at Larchmont Golf Course in the Montana Open. He doesn’t know how many, or if any, are still the top mark. But one course seems to always get the better of him: Old Works in Anaconda.
“I don’t know why, but it’s my nemesis,” Malby said.
Malby is already what many amateur hackers would love to be: a career golfer, whose office is on a golf course and whose colleagues are diehard students of the game. But Malby still dreams of being one of the PGA Tour’s 125 card-carrying players, competing on national television on the country’s grandest golf stages.
“Just to be able play competitively and make money at it, that would be a blast,” Malby said. “I’m fortunate enough that I get to do that to some extent, but the guy who finishes 125th (on the Tour) still makes $750,000.”
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