McNealy 'full bore ahead' into professional career

By Ryan LavnerAugust 23, 2017, 4:54 pm

Maverick McNealy was relaxing in his hotel room in Bradenton, Fla., when his phone buzzed.

It was May 2015, and he’d just wrapped up a sensational sophomore season at Stanford in which he’d won six titles, earned Player of the Year honors and intrigued observers with his meteoric rise and backstory as the son of a Silicon Valley tycoon. But now, his father, Scott, was on the other end of the phone, with some unexpected career advice.

“If you want to turn pro,” Scott said, “this would be a great time.”

Maverick was shocked.

“Dad,” he said, “that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. There’s no chance I’m not coming back to Stanford.”

Over the past two years, McNealy’s reluctance to turn pro has fascinated the amateur golf community, but with his college eligibility exhausted, and with so much yet to experience, he finally confirmed Wednesday that he will enter the pro ranks after the Walker Cup. The 21-year-old will make his debut Oct. 5 at the PGA Tour’s season-opening Safeway Open – the end of a two-year, will-he-or-won’t-he saga that began as soon as he hung up the phone in his Florida hotel room.  


Related: Stanford's McNealy wins Ben Hogan Award

Related: Stanford's McNealy wins Byron Nelson Award

Lavner: McNealy torn between professional golf and life as an am


“To be completely honest,” he told GolfChannel.com this week, “there’s one guy on each shoulder: One guy is saying, What are you doing, Maverick? These guys are extremely good. But the other guy is saying, There’s so much fun and potential to do cool things and have a blast.

“I’m nervous and excited, but I also realize it’s not a walk in the park and for a professional athlete, it’s the furthest thing from a certain outcome and future. But I’m full bore ahead, trying to become the best player I can be.”

McNealy’s initial opposition was understandable: Professional golf never was in his plans. Growing up, he assumed that he’d follow his father’s lead and enter the business world. (Scott co-founded Sun Microsystems and currently serves as the CEO of Wayin, a Denver-based social-media startup.) At Stanford, Maverick was a management science and engineering major, and he joined the golf team as an unheralded freshman. His breakout sophomore season and ascent to the top of the World Amateur Rankings surprised everyone – mostly McNealy himself.

It wasn’t an act, some ploy to draw attention – during several interviews over the past three years, McNealy genuinely wavered between his two career choices. But eschewing the pros would have been unprecedented, at least in the modern era: Only one All-American in the past 25 years has decided against turning pro, and Trip Kuehne didn’t boast a college résumé as strong as McNealy’s.

Though he couldn’t match the same production over his final two college seasons – he finished his career tied with Tiger Woods and Patrick Rodgers for the most victories in Stanford history, with 11 – McNealy initiated a meeting in January with his parents, swing coach Alex Murray and Cardinal coach Conrad Ray to explore the possibility of a pro career. The discussion didn’t go as planned.

“My dad is the world’s best devil’s advocate,” McNealy said, “and he laid down every single reason why I shouldn’t turn pro. My world was turned upside down.”

But after more contemplation, he returned with the four biggest reasons why he wanted to test the pro ranks:

1. He loves golf. “That’s the core of any decision,” he said, “that you love what you’re doing.”

2. He believes he can improve. “Getting better is one of the most rewarding things for me in life,” he said, “and there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

3. The ball doesn’t care who you are. “It’s been a motivating factor in my life, that I need to outwork everyone to show that the success I do earn is a product of hard work and not just that it was given to me,” he said. “There’s always been a little chip on my shoulder, but I’m not out to prove anything. I’m not trying to create my own identity or overcome anything or break down any sort of preconceived notions about me. I want to play golf and do some cool things.”

And finally: 4. Professional golf will be fun. He gets to play a game for a living. Compete. Travel the world. Meet new and interesting people.

Those four reasons, that explanation, was all his famous father needed to hear.

“The only way you can screw this up,” Scott said, “is if you’re not 100 percent. If you commit and never look back, you’ll have made a great decision.”

Former Stanford teammates Cameron Wilson and Rodgers offered similar counsel: Don’t put a deadline on your career, whether it’s five years or 15. Be all in.

“I’m fairly secure in my reasons to turn professional,” McNealy said. “Even if – absolute worst-case scenario – that I don’t play well the next five years and I have nowhere to play, then at least I gave it a shot.

“When I look back on my career, the only way I’d be dissatisfied was if I went at it half-heartedly.”

And so he is moving forward, without hesitation, embarking on a career he never thought possible.

McNealy is being represented by Peter Webb of P3Sports Reps. He is moving to Las Vegas next week. And he is announcing equipment and apparel deals shortly. Next season he will receive the maximum seven sponsor exemptions allowed to non-members.

“I’m excited to see how he does,” Ray said. “He has left a strong legacy here.”

When McNealy tees it up in Napa, he’ll have made nine previous starts in a professional event, with his best finish a tie for 44th at this year’s John Deere Classic. But even more than how his game stacked up, he was most curious to experience the weekly monotony of Tour life – the travel, the lonely hotel rooms, the pre-tournament routine, the media obligations, the evaluation afterward.

“I thought I’d hate it,” he said, “but I actually really enjoyed it.”

At the Barracuda Championship, McNealy participated in a junior clinic on Tuesday of tournament week – a perfect introduction, he said, because he wants to focus his off-course efforts on growing youth sports. Given his unique background, what has always appealed to McNealy about the pro game wasn’t fame or fortune. It was the Tour’s charitable initiatives.

“I’d love to be a great role model and an inspiration,” he said, “but for any of that to matter, I have to play well and succeed.”

Even if his results suggest otherwise, McNealy insists that he’s a better player now than he was two years ago, when he dominated college golf, when his dad said it’d be a “great time” to turn pro.

Since then, he has learned how to manage expectations, both internal and external.

He has gained more tournament experience.

And he has learned about himself – his stressors, his limits, his keys to unlocking his potential.

Somehow, he is ready.

“I have a much better chance to win than in my sophomore year,” he said. “I couldn’t be more confident about my game right now.”

Ryu, S.H. Park among winners at Rolex awards

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 5:51 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – The Rolex Player of the Year and Vare Trophy winners won’t be determined until Sunday’s finish of the CME Group Tour Championship, but seven other awards were presented Thursday during the LPGA’s Rolex Awards dinner at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort.

The awards and winners:

William and Mousie Powell Award – Katherine Kirk won an award given to the player “whose behavior and deeds best exemplify the spirit, ideals and values of the LPGA.” Kirk won the Thornberry Classic this year, her third LPGA title. “Some people ask me if I feel obligated to give back to the game,” Kirk said. “I think it’s a privilege.”

Heather Farr Perseverance Award – Tiffany Joh, who had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma earlier this year, thanked the Farr family and all those who supported Joh through her diagnosis and recovery.

“I found a great quote from Ram Dass, `We are all just walking each other home,’” Joh said. “I’ve really come to understand the value of all my relationships, no matter how fleeting or profound they seem.”

The Commissioner’s Award – Roberta Bowman, outgoing chair of the LPGA Board of Directors, was honored for her service the last six years. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan called her “my friend, my boss and my hero.” Bowman deflected the praise for her back on to the tour, thanking Whan, LPGA staff, players, sponsors, fans and the media.

“The world needs more role models for little girls,” Bowman said. “And they don’t need to look much farther than the LPGA.”

Ellen Griffin Rolex Award and Nancy Lopez Golf Achievement Award – Sandy LaBauve, who founded the LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf program, was honored as the first person to win both these awards.

The Griffin Award honors golf teachers and the Lopez Award honors an LPGA professional who emulates the values Lopez demonstrated. LaBauve is the daughter of Jack and Sherry Lumpkin, both teachers of the game.

“This program doesn’t belong to me,” LaBauve said of LPGA-Girls’ Golf. “I merely planted the seed. The fruit belongs to all of us.”

Rolex Annika Major Award – So Yeon Ryu won the award, named for Annika Sorenstam, for the best overall performance in women’s major championships this year. She won the ANA Inspiration and tied for third at the U.S. Women’s Open.

“It’s such an honor to win an award named after Annika Sorenstam,” Ryu told Sorenstam during the presentation. “It’s a special award for me.”

Rolex Rookie of the Year Award – Sung Hyun Park won the honor, telling the audience in a message translated from Korean that she was disappointed failing to win the KLPGA’s Rookie of the Year Award and was grateful for a dream come true getting the chance to win it on the LPGA.

Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale

By Associated Press, Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 1:50 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.

At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.

Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.

In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.


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Full-field scores from the DP World Tour Championship


Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.

Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.

Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.

''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.

''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''

Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.

''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.

''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''

Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.

Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.

''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''

Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 12:16 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.

Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.

''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''

The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.

''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''

The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.

''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'

Joel Dahmen had a 64.


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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.

''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.

''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.

''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.

Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.

''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.

Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.

Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.

Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:33 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.

Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.

Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.

“At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told GolfChannel.com. “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”

Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.


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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.

“I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.

Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.

Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season. 

“As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.

Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.