Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Stanford's Maverick McNealy Has His Eye On U.S. Amateur Title

Talented Senior Picks up Another Honor As He Earns 2017 Byron Nelson Award

(LOS ANGELES) - Despite holding the top spot in the World Amateur Golf Rankings heading into his senior season at Stanford, Maverick McNealy still was undecided about his future.Not undecided about when he would turn pro, as most outsiders assumed – but IF he should become a tour pro.

The talent to play professionally has always been there, but for him the desire to earn a college degree has always been greater than the temptation to play for pay.

That’s why leaving college early was never a consideration for McNealy, even after racking up numerous player of the year honors, etching his name in the Stanford record book alongside alumnus Tiger Woods, as well as distinguishing himself in prestigious international team events and making the cut as an amateur in selected PGA TOUR events.

McNealy was fully aware that 2015 Walker Cup teammates Bryson DeChambeau of SMU and Beau Hossler of Texas had left college to turn pro, joining a recent high-profile list of early departures headlined by UCLA’s Patrick Cantlay, Texas’ Jordan Spieth, one-time Stanford teammate Patrick Rodgers, Cal’s Michael Kim and Alabama’s Justin Thomas.

Yet McNealy’s focus on amateur golf never wavered. Regardless of what his top-caliber contemporaries had decided under similar circumstances, Maverick knew the right decision for him was hitting the books and hitting the fairways at Stanford for his senior year -- with the goal of leading his Cardinal golf team deep into the NCAA playoffs and then graduating with a degree in management science and engineering.

His future could wait.

Besides, McNealy wanted to take advantage of his exemptions in the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin and the British Open at Royal Birkdale in England -- the rewards that came with winning the Mark H. McCormack Medal as the world’s top-ranked amateur at the end of summer – before capping his summer by competing in another U.S. Amateur Championship and probably on another U.S. Walker Cup team.

That’s why McNealy was adamant about not changing his schedule or his timetable, even if he were to contend in one of the majors or another tour event that gave him a sponsor’s exemption. That’s also why the U.S. Amateur at The Riviera Country Club (and Bel-Air Country Club, a stroke-play co-host) was long ago chiseled on his summer schedule from Aug. 14-20.

“I couldn’t be more excited for this upcoming summer, a highlight of which will be the US Am at Riviera and Bel-Air,” McNealy said in an email. “It is going to be an awesome summer of amateur golf in LA, as I hope to play in the Walker Cup at nearby LA Country Club (Sept. 9-10) as well.
“But to play a course like Riviera that has so much history – in golf course architecture, (as well as in) professional and amateur golf – will be incredible.”

“We are thrilled to play host to the greatest amateur golfers in the world and we look forward to having Maverick add to his historical run at Riviera,” said Michael R. Yamaki, Corporate Officer of The Riviera Country Club.

McNealy has been making history of his own on the golf course. As a sophomore at Stanford in 2014-15, he had a breakout year, winning six times, establishing a school-record, 69.05 single-season stroke average, winning Pac-12 Player of the Year honors, as well as the Fred Haskins and Jack Nicklaus awards as the nation’s top collegiate golfer.  He also made the cut at two PGA Tour events in which he was invited to play – the Greenbrier Classic and Barbasol Classic -- and was selected to the 2015 U.S. Palmer Cup and Walker Cup teams.

A year ago as a junior, he won four more times at Stanford, even though he had health issues in the spring, when a cold turned into a chest infection, and he lost 14 pounds. He felt the worst in the NCAA Championships, when he said he was “coughing up a lung” and shot 76-71-76 to miss the final cut in stroke play. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue, forcing him to take some time off to rest and recharge.

McNealy still managed an impressive 69.09 scoring average during his Stanford season, highlighted by setting a tournament record of 16-under-par as medalist in the Western Intercollegiate at Pasatiempo Golf Club, where he finished two shots ahead of soon-to-be-crowned NCAA individual champion Aaron Wise of Oregon. Maverick also made two more professional cuts in 2016, in the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational and in the Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic.

After going back to the gym to regain his strength and weight, McNealy was rested and healthy when the fall season rolled around in October. He proved it by winning the first event on Stanford’s schedule, the Nike Golf Collegiate Invitational, where he shot 68-66-68 at historic Colonial Country Club and was the only player in the elite field to break par all three rounds. Most notably, it was his 11th career victory at Stanford, tying a school record shared by Tiger Woods and Patrick Rodgers. That win set the stage for chasing Tiger and more history at Stanford in 2017.

His success at Stanford was rewarded last week when he was named the recipient of the 2017 Byron Nelson Award, given to a graduating senior for his entire collegiate academic and golf career as well as his character and integrity while in college.

While earning the award, his career at Stanford is far from over as he gets ready to play in the Pac-12 championship and then the NCAA championship.

Another reason McNealy was looking forward to his summer schedule is what he considers unfinished business at the U.S. Amateur. He missed the cut by one stroke at the 2014 U.S. Am at Atlanta Athletic Club; lost to eventual champion DeChambeau in the Round of 16 at the 2015 Am at Olympia Fields Country Club in suburban Chicago; and lost a 23-man playoff for eight spots in match play on the fifth playoff hole during the 2016 Am at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan.

And after this year’s U.S. Amateur at Riviera and, he hopes, another Walker Cup appearance, McNealy finally will be ready to make a decision about his future. He has said for two years that he isn’t sure he will pursue a professional career after college or whether he will join the business world – regardless of his world ranking at the time.

Maverick’s father, Scott, co-founded Sun Microsystems, a Silicon Valley tech giant that was acquired by Oracle for $7.4 billion in 2010, and more recently became CEO of Wayin, a Denver-based company that integrates social content into marketing strategies. Scott has said he would love to groom Maverick to take over Wayin, but will leave that decision up to his son.

“I do see (competitive) golf being a huge part of my life going forward, regardless,” McNealy said during an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2016.

If he goes into business, he can maintain his amateur status and play in the elite amateur tournaments, as well as try to qualify for the U.S. Open every year. If he turns pro, he can plan his playing schedule, do non-profit work in his spare time, and enter the business world later.

“My dad always tells me, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,’ ’’ McNealy told the Wall Street Journal. “I’m given a huge amount of opportunities, and I feel like it’s my duty to do the most that I can with them. I’m still trying to figure out how.”

The goal is to land the most coveted prize in amateur golf - the U.S. Amateur Championship – and join many of golf’s greatest players, such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Bobby Jones, who have won the Havemeyer Trophy.

Riviera, the site of the 1948 U.S. Open, will host its first U.S. Amateur Championship. Bel-Air, which will serve as the stroke-play co-host course, held the 1976 U.S. Amateur, won by Bill Sander.

U.S. Amateur tickets are available online at Tickets are $20 (single-day grounds) and $75 for a weekly pass. Military personnel and students receive free admission with valid ID.

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