Time for McNealy to learn and earn
October 04, 2017
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Maverick McNealy on his first pro start before Safeway
NAPA, Calif. – Maverick McNealy is making his professional golf debut at this week’s Safeway Open. This is significant because:
1. He attended Stanford University, which has a habit of churning out a few decent players every now and then. In fact, two of the top 12 all-time winningest players on the PGA TOUR attended Stanford – Tiger Woods is No. 2 on the list; Tom Watson is tied for 11th. Speaking of victories, Maverick won 11 collegiate events while at Stanford, which ties Woods and Patrick Rodgers for the most in school history.
2. He doesn’t have to be here. His father is Silicon Valley billionaire Scott McNealy, who co-founded Sun Microsystems. Maverick – who graduated with a degree in Management Science and Engineering -- seriously contemplated remaining an amateur and pursuing a business career. He didn’t make his intentions to turn pro until a few months ago.
3. He just might be the next big thing in golf. Not only does he have a catchy first name – his dad named him after the Ford Maverick, a compact car produced in the 1970s – but his resume screams of potential. He spent significant time ranked as the No. 1 amateur player in the world, won the Haskins Award in 2015 as best amateur golfer, has already played the U.S. Open and Open Championship, and is one of three U.S. golfers to post a perfect 4-0 record in the recent win at the Walker Cup.
Inside the PGA TOUR
2017 Safeway Open preview
It’s no wonder brands such as Callaway, Under Armour, KPMG and Discovery Land have signed him to sponsorship deals, all of which he announced this week. He’s not exactly sneaking up on anybody.
Of course, with that kind of resume comes a higher level of expectations. McNealy doesn’t have status on TOUR – he’s playing this week on a sponsor’s exemption and has five more already lined up, and also hopes to play in the second stage of Web.com Q-school – so it could be slow going for the next few months. Of course, it could also be a fast-moving process, too.
“It’s funny – I almost feel like I’m starting college all over again,” McNealy said Wednesday when asked about his expectations. “Obviously these next six months are crucial for where I start, but [I’m] looking forward to a long career. I’m going to have a lot of opportunities and a lot of chances.
“But it’s hard to have any expectations because I really don’t know. I feel like it’s every bit as likely that I don’t have status [or] that I could win the next couple months. I just don’t know. Golf’s a funny game. You can miss four cuts in a row and win the next week. So I think it really comes down to being patient and sticking to my process and doing what I know works.”
Even at age 21, it’s apparent that McNealy knows a lot. He ran the gamut of expectations during his college career. As a freshman at Stanford, he simply wanted to qualify for a couple of tournaments, intent on proving his worth more with his work ethic while soaking up as much knowledge as possible.
Then in 2015, he won seven times in 12 starts, a breakout performance he called “kind of a magical year for me.” He won four more times in 2016 and rose to world amateur No. 1. It was a reward for his success but also a good chance to learn – how to handle expectations, how to be a leader. Those were challenging times. He was the No. 1 golfer at Stanford, “something that was very new to me, and having to try and lead the team in some ways.”
He won just one college tournament this year, and was a non-factor at the NCAA Championship, finishing tied for 76th as Stanford failed to make the 54-hole cut. But his Walker Cup performance indicates that he’s back on track, just in time to launch his pro career.
“I learned so much more about my game and about myself and how I handle those expectations and those pressures and what I can do,” McNealy said. “There’s earning years and there’s learning years, and I had a great two learning years – and hopefully I can play well from those experiences.”(Harry How/Getty Images)
Having previous experience at PGA TOUR events should help. He made eight starts as an amateur, including the 2014 U.S. Open. The next year, he played The Greenbrier Classic, shooting 67 in the first round. “I was not comfortable over a single shot and actually played really well,” he recalled. “I said, at this point, I probably have the lowest career scoring average of anyone on the PGA TOUR at 67 – but that didn’t last unfortunately.”
He realizes he’s well behind on the learning curve, and thus soaking up more knowledge and depositing it into the memory bank will be a key goal this week. Seeking advice has never been a problem for him.
As a freshman, McNealy was paired up with Rodgers for 36 holes at The Western at Pasatiempo. On the bus ride home that week, he asked, “Patrick, what did you think? What do you think I could do better?” Rodgers replied that he’d think about it.
The next morning, McNealy woke up, checked his email, and saw a lengthy response from Rodgers, “basically saying you’ve shown you’re good enough to compete, you’ve shown you’re good enough to win – now you just need to believe you’re good enough to win,” McNealy recalled. “And that just went right over my head.”
But he saved the email and read it again the next year as a sophomore. “I said, ‘Wow, he’s right.’ It was just a flip in the mindset.”
That same year, Woods was at the Stanford campus right after his first back surgery, just hitting balls that morning after an early workout at the gym. Someone on the Stanford team finally approached Woods and asked a question about hitting a stinger. Eventually, McNealy and his other teammates stood in a semicircle, with Woods showing them shots, telling stories and answering their questions.
“What I took away from that weekend is that Tiger didn’t do anything crazy different in terms of his golf preparation that I had never heard of before,” McNealy said. “It was just that he did everything really well and more disciplined and better than anybody else I had ever seen.
“So I took a lot of confidence in that, that if I just do what I know I need to do and do it better, that I’ll probably be in a good spot.”
Whether this turns into a learning year or an earning year for McNealy remains to be seen. Of course, there’s no reason it can’t be both.