The decision: McNealy torn between life as a pro or am

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 14, 2016, 11:40 am

HANGING ABOVE HIS EXTRA-LONG twin bed, on colorful three-by-five prints, are three motivational sayings by which Maverick McNealy tries to live his life:

If You Can Do Something About It, Do It; If Not, Don’t Worry About It

There’s Always Better

What Are You Going to Learn About Yourself Today?

Those maxims are from his tycoon father, a Nike ad campaign and a random post on Twitter, but they’ve guided McNealy through his formative years at Stanford – through his meteoric rise from overlooked recruit to No. 1-ranked amateur, as well as through his daunting management science and engineering major.

The first two messages are straightforward: There is no benefit in worrying, and it’s motivating and exciting to know that you can improve. But the last one is more complex. 

“There are a lot of ways you can think about it,” he said recently. “One is that you should try and learn something from everything you do – that’s part of getting better. But the other is that you make your own character.

“It’s a challenge to myself: How are you going to carry yourself? What are you going to do? What are you going to live by?"

Those questions have never been more relevant to McNealy as he approaches his final college season.

For a kid with seemingly every gift imaginable – intelligence, good looks, desire, wealth, a strong support system and, yes, tremendous physical ability – what he currently lacks most is clarity. His complicated major essentially takes a lot of information and distills it into something useful, and that background will surely come in handy later this year when he chooses whether to follow the traditional path by turning pro or veers off course by entering the business world.

An advertiser’s dream, McNealy could command a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal ... or he could become intrigued by a classmate’s startup idea and join forces. He could realize what many predict will be a fruitful career inside the ropes ... or he could opt for a corner office. He has yet to give even those closest to him any indication which way he’s leaning, which suggests that he’s torn between a life as a touring professional and one in which he becomes a modern-day Bobby Jones, who was a lawyer by profession.

McNealy said that he will make a decision this December, six months before graduation, and it could prove to be unprecedented, at least in the big-money era spawned by Tiger Woods.

Only one All-American in the past 25 years has eschewed the PGA Tour for an office job.


Trip Kuehne competed in the 2008 Masters after winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur (Getty)


TRIP KUEHNE, BEST KNOWN FOR taking Tiger Woods to the 36th hole in the final of the 1994 U.S. Amateur, passed on turning pro in favor of starting a business career.

While his decision perplexed some, Kuehne said his mind was made up even before his duel with Woods.

“I knew what I was going to do prior to that,” he said. “The final match just solidified the notion.”

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As talented as the three-time All-American was, his true passion had never been golf. It was investments, ever since he won a stock-picking contest in the fourth grade.

Kuehne figures he cost himself six figures by not turning pro. Back then, college players were slotted for future endorsement money based on their college and amateur achievements – being named an All-American was worth roughly $10,000, for example, while a U.S. Amateur victory was valued at about $100,000. Had he won in ’94, Kuehne said, “I probably would have had to turn pro to take advantage of that situation.”

Instead, he cultivated a successful college and amateur career before going into business, eventually founding his own hedge-fund company, Double Eagle Capital. Since then, he has watched every All-American (first, second and third team) try to make it to the big leagues, most with little success.

“The amount of money you can make in one week on Tour just blows people’s minds and they end up chasing that dream when they probably could have done something else and been way more successful,” Kuehne said. “The majority of these guys, the All-Americans, they’ve been going at it since they were 10 years old with one endgame in mind. But it takes a very special mindset or someone completely different who loves the game of golf to realize that it can open different doors and avenues. You might not make $5 million a year, but you can have a much more rewarding life to raise your family at home and not be dictated by a 32-tournament schedule.”

When asked specifically about McNealy’s upcoming decision, Kuehne offered some advice, from one trailblazer to, potentially, another:

“As a professional golfer, you can have one foot in and say, 'hey, I can go back into business, and you’re not all in,” he said. “In the pros, they’re all in and then some. It’s cutthroat. It’s brutal. Whatever decision he makes, my advice to him is to follow your dream, whatever your dream is, choose that and go all in. Don’t ever look back.

“It’s easy to take the well-worn path and turn pro. Very easy. It’s what you’re supposed to do. But a lot of things have to happen: What if you get hurt? What if it takes four or five years to get out there? If you weren’t fully committed, if you weren’t all in, then it’s easy to regret your decision. All of a sudden, it’s too late.”



WHEN MAVERICK MCNEALY WAS A KID, he never dreamed of being a professional golfer, either. A hockey player, maybe, until he realized he was an 85-pound 14-year-old who got smoked every time he played a travel game in Canada.

That was about the same time McNealy began seeing Bay Area swing coach Alex Murray. Even early on, Murray, 41, was struck by McNealy’s studious nature. After qualifying for a junior tournament, McNealy called Murray and ran through an elaborate hole-by-hole breakdown. “I’ve never had a kid that young who would be willing to do all of the follow-up work,” Murray said.

Still, McNealy was recruited by only two college programs. More interested in academics than athletics, he chose to stay close to home at Stanford, about 15 minutes from his parents’ house, to play for Conrad Ray, a former hockey player and Stanford alum himself.

During McNealy’s freshman season, 2013-14, Player of the Year Patrick Rodgers and NCAA champion Cameron Wilson propelled the Cardinal to the semifinals of the NCAA Championship, where they lost to Oklahoma State when McNealy, the team’s unproven No. 5 man, dropped his match in 21 holes. More critical to McNealy’s development were his interactions with the team’s star players. He studied how Rodgers and Wilson worked, how they prepared, how they won.

Those junior-tournament breakdowns with Murray were nothing compared with how McNealy maximized his performance in college. He kept a running document on his laptop, detailing every tournament and qualifying round, with precise insights into how he played, felt and thought.

The summer after his freshman season, using advanced statistics, McNealy addressed the weakness in his game. Over the next year, he improved 5½ shots on the greens, according to a strokes-gained model he developed himself. Already one of the country’s best ball-strikers, he exploded during his sophomore season, winning six times, capturing the Haskins Award as the nation’s top player and landing on the Walker Cup team.

But even though McNealy won four titles during his junior season, warning signs began to appear. He played all year, with no breaks, for the first time and burned out. His unrelenting course load only added to the stress. He knocked out the bulk of his major last season, but he never fully realized the toll it would take. Twice a week during the winter quarter, he woke up at 6 a.m., worked out until 8, practiced for three hours, ate lunch, sat in class from 1-6:30 p.m. and then had a three-hour lab until 10. And these weren’t cupcake classes, either – he studied interactive management science, optimization with linear algebra, probabilistic analysis, electrical engineering and stochastic modeling.

McNealy wore down as the spring progressed. At Pasatiempo, he outdueled Oregon’s Aaron Wise (the eventual NCAA champion) after shooting 16 under par in the 54-hole event. Instead of celebrating arguably the most impressive performance of his career, McNealy fell asleep that night with his head in a salad bowl.

During the postseason, a nasty cold turned into a chest infection. Wheezing his way around Eugene Country Club, McNealy tied for 112th at NCAAs, a stunningly poor result for a Player of the Year contender. There were other factors in play, as well. “There’s an added weight and burden,” Ray said. “So once you’ve achieved some success, are you guarding to have that success again, or are you trying to reach a new level? That’s what he’s working through now.”

In June, McNealy played in a 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifier with his father, Scott, on the bag. “On the opening nine, he swung and I could see his vertebrae, his shoulder blades and ribs through his sweater and his shirt,” Scott said. Over the next few weeks, McNealy was slated to play a handful of events overseas, and his father tried talking him out of the trip. By the end of the day, barely able to finish because of fatigue, McNealy agreed that it was time to reset.

McNealy had lost 14 pounds (down to 156) while battling the mounting stresses of school, golf and expectations. The entire episode reminded Scott McNealy of when he was Maverick’s age. Working two shifts seven days a week, he wound up in a hospital with mononucleosis and hepatitis. “He does everything full bore,” Scott said, “so I said let’s try and intercept him so he doesn’t end up in the emergency room like I did.”

Doctors eventually determined that McNealy was suffering from adrenal fatigue, which explained why he had little appetite and could hit only 20 balls on the range before retreating to a bench. While his peers played the usual summer amateur circuit, McNealy stayed back in Portola Valley, crushing himself in the gym, devouring four meals a day and then sleeping for hours.

After a few weeks he was ready to return to the course. He’d play 18 holes in a cart with his three younger brothers, then return home to crash. Almost every round he shot during a family vacation in Lake Tahoe was in the low to mid 60s. No pressure. No expectations. “Just fun,” he said, “like it usually is.”  

Even though his limited action this summer was uninspiring – he finished 20th at the Trans-Miss Amateur, tied for 67th at a Web.com Tour event and failed to qualify for match play at the U.S. Amateur – McNealy remained undeterred.

“More so now than ever, I’m wanting to fly under the radar,” he said. “I love being the underdog, playing from behind. Being the overdog is not something I’ve really experienced in my entire life until this year. Other people seeing me ahead is different and something I need to get better at.”


Maverick and Scott McNealy at this year's Ellie Mae Classic on the Web.com Tour (Getty)


LISTEN TO MCNEALY SPEAK, and it’s not hard to tell whom he admires and trusts most; during a recent interview, he began six sentences with, “My dad always told me …”

And for good reason. Scott McNealy is the former co-founder of Sun Microsystems, a Silicon Valley billionaire.

“It’s like being Michael Jordan’s son and thinking about trying to play professional basketball,” McNealy said. “You have one of the great role models of all time.”

But Scott and wife Susan never raised their four boys as children of privilege. Despite growing up in a 7,280-square-foot mansion, Maverick, 20, Dakota, 18, Colt, 17, and Scout, 14, all shared the same room, their twin beds lined up in a row, barracks style. There were no phones. No TVs. No electronics. No music. They all attended the same schools. They all worked in the same tiny study. And they all played the same sports, with the exception of Maverick, who also played soccer; the other three brothers are taekwondo black belts going for their second degree. Said Scott: “I wanted them forged together like no four brothers ever were.”

And yet there have been grumblings that Maverick is in position to be successful only because of his famous surname.

At a Web.com Tour event in July, Maverick was warming up on the range while Scott, 61, inconspicuous with shaggy hair and a scruffy beard, cleaned the clubs in the background. He overheard a couple of caddies gossiping.

“You see that kid down there?” one of them said, nodding at McNealy. “He’s rich.”

Amused, Scott stopped scrubbing and walked over.

“Oh, he’s not rich,” he said with a smirk. “His daddy’s rich.”

“I told Mav a long time ago that you were born not with a silver spoon but a platinum spoon in your mouth,” Scott says now. “Everybody is going to look at you and say, ‘You got to where you are because of who you were born to.’ So you’re going to have to outwork everybody or they’re going to think it was because of us.”

After his freshman and sophomore years, Maverick worked as an intern at Wayin, a Denver-based social-media startup that his father founded six years ago. “I enjoy that life,” he said, “and however big or small my impact is there, I’m not afraid of the office life. I’m not afraid of the cubicle. I’m not the person who would complain about going to work on Monday morning.”

Indeed, McNealy seems like an ideal employee. One of his Stanford essays was about what mattered most to him. He chose being part of a team, whether that’s his family, his travel hockey squad, the Cardinal, or the United States. He wants – no, needs – to work toward some greater cause. That’s why those around McNealy worry that, after a few years, he could grow weary of the monotony of Tour life, even if he dedicates himself philanthropically.

“It’s still a lot of time alone,” he said. “It’s still a lot of time having a conversation with the napkin in front of you. That’s different.”

McNealy politely non-answers when asked (repeatedly) about his future, saying that he’s shelving that decision until the winter. And that’s not just lip service – two prominent agents confirmed that they haven’t even started preliminary discussions with McNealy about representation or an equipment deal.

“That’s very unusual,” said one agent. “But if you think about the kind of kid he is, it’s not that unusual. He can literally do whatever he wants. Not many people can say that.”


McNealy signing autographs for fans at the Ellie Mae Classic in July (Getty)


CONVENIENTLY, MCNEALY’S SPECIALIZATION AT Stanford is in decision analysis, which combines math, statistics, economics, finance, computer science and probability. “That’s gonna come in very handy this winter,” he said with a smile. “It’s Decision-Making 101.”

But considering McNealy’s analytical mind, it’s worth asking: Is there any room in this for emotion?

“That’s a big uncertainty,” he said. “How I feel and live my life. I don’t want to live a life I hate. So how do I align what I like and enjoy and what I want to accomplish?”

Part of the uncertainty stems from the fact that, like Kuehne, professional golf was never a dream, a goal, an endgame. McNealy experienced more success, and quicker, than he ever realized was possible.

If you had asked him about his pro possibilities entering college, he would have said there was a 0 percent chance. After his freshman year, 1 percent. After qualifying for the 2014 U.S. Open, 5 percent. After his sophomore year, probably not, but maybe.

And now, after his junior season, he’s torn.

It’s clear the impact this could have on the amateur game, which has long been viewed as merely a steppingstone to the big leagues. No one in the past 50 years, not even Kuehne, has had these credentials, this background, and turned down the pro game. It just doesn’t happen.

“I think he should stay amateur,” said Scott Harvey, a 38-year-old property manager who played on the 2015 Walker Cup team with McNealy. “He’s got more to offer the world than just golf. He’s a great person, a great kid, smart as can be. I think he’s doing the world a disservice if he plays golf.”

“But I just don’t see a human being who is that passionate about golf not giving it a crack at the professional level,” said Murray, McNealy’s swing coach. “I think it’d be a tragedy if he didn’t try. He always said that he wanted to play golf as long as he could until he can’t get any better, and only then would it change how he feels about golf.”

Even if McNealy does choose pro golf, it isn’t likely to be a long-term endeavor. He has already mentioned how playing before he settled down and started a family would be the “right time to do it”; his father stepped down as CEO of Sun Microsystems when Maverick was 10 because he wanted to help raise the four boys. The elder McNealy said it was the best move he has ever made.

Kuehne’s advice was to be all in, like he was, no matter the direction. But right now, it’s not realistic for McNealy. He’s not fully committed to either career path. Might never be.

“That’s why he’s just gotta follow his dream of what he wants to do,” Kuehne said. “You’ll be a lot more successful if you’re chasing your dream and not what somebody else wants you to do. Because if you’ve got two guys, and one guy is living his dream and the other is going through the motions, the guy living his dream is going to kick your ass every time.”

The next few months will be momentous for McNealy regardless. He’s one victory away from tying Stanford’s career wins record (held by Tiger Woods and Rodgers), he has exemptions into two majors, and there’s a home Walker Cup, which means he’ll remain amateur until at least mid-September.

And so it promises to be a fascinating fall, to watch how a 20-year-old throwback with seemingly limitless options somehow chooses one, and how the principles that have guided him for the past few years – What Are You Going to Learn About Yourself Today? – reveal themselves once more.

“My dad always told me: To whom much is given, much is expected,” he said. “If there’s this big bag of really great opportunity that is going to be dumped on somebody – a Stanford education, this golf ability, very well off financially – then who would the world want that to be? That’s what I’m trying to be.

“How can I use what I have – which you can’t ignore, can’t be ashamed of, can’t waste – and go about this in a way that does something good, to the best of my abilities? I don’t know what that is. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. I don’t even know if I’ll find that in 30 years, but that’s what I’m working toward.”

Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:

3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

5/2: Rory McIlroy

7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

9/2: Justin Rose

5/1: Brooks Koepka

15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

10/1: Adam Scott

12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.