Stanford's McNealy recharging for run at wins record

By Ryan LavnerNovember 10, 2015, 2:30 pm

After winning nine times in 14 months, earning NCAA Player of the Year honors, playing a pair of PGA Tour events, going deep in the U.S. Amateur, representing the United States at the Walker Cup and competing in the fall while handling a full course load for his management science and engineering major, Maverick McNealy is ready to do something he hasn’t done since high school.

He is putting the clubs away.

Not because he’s burned out. Not because he doesn’t want to play golf.

“I just need the rest right now,” he said.

McNealy is stepping back only for eight or nine days, nothing crazy, but it’s a well-deserved reprieve for the Stanford junior who has emerged as America’s most intriguing prospect in years.

Fatigued or not, his game has shown no signs of slowing down. He finished the fall season Nov. 4 with a victory at the Gifford Collegiate, his third in four starts.

“That leaves a pretty good taste in my mouth that I can enjoy for the next few days,” he said.

The 20-year-old burst onto the scene last fall, just a few months removed from being Stanford’s No. 5 man on a team that reached the NCAA semifinals. He wound up winning an NCAA-best six times, posting the second-lowest scoring average in history (69.05) and sweeping all of the postseason awards.

Then came a busy summer, when he made the cut in both PGA Tour events he played, advanced to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur (losing to eventual champion Bryson DeChambeau) and spent a week overseas at the Walker Cup. Upon returning to the States, he flew directly to Chicago and had one day to prepare for the Cardinal’s season opener, at Olympia Fields. All he did was open with rounds of 67-65 and win by three.

“I’ve walked a fine line of not being rested and not being sharp,” he said. “It feels like I’ve been playing catch-up.”

Yet it hasn’t affected his game, at least not from a results standpoint.

McNealy’s worst finish this fall? Fifth. He shared top honors at the U.S. Collegiate, the strongest field of the fall. And last week, at the Gifford, he erased a five-shot deficit in the final round with a closing 67. On the last two holes, he rolled in 70 feet worth of putts to steal his third victory of the fall, the most of any player in NCAA Division I. Again.

After the round, while eating lunch with his teammates, he finally crashed.

“I felt like I was going to face-plant in my food,” he said.

How McNealy has been able to summon the goods while teetering on the edge of burnout can be traced back to smart preparation and an extensive journal that documents every practice session, round, tournament and year.

One entry in particular stands out, from his first fall tournament last year.

In the lead for the first time in his career, McNealy realized he had 2 ½ hours to kill before his final-round tee time. He can eat only so many breakfasts, and hit so many balls, so he developed a stretching routine that he has used ever since. For a half hour, in the hotel room or in the locker room, McNealy throws on his headphones and listens to music that slows down his internal tempo.

During that quiet time, he puts the next few hours in perspective: What do I need to do today? What does this round mean to me? Who am I playing for? The answer to the last question, always, is his teammates.

“It feels like everything slows down in my mind,” he said. “Physically, it feels like I’m getting ready for somebody to punch me in the stomach. There’s a tense feeling. And then there’s an intense focus on the target.”

On the course, he strives to reach a performance state, a zone where he doesn’t even remember making swings; all he picks up is the ball in mid-flight or mid-roll. It can’t be re-created in casual rounds with his parents or three brothers, Dakota, Colt and Scout. It’s found only when the pressure is at its most intense.

“I play some of my best golf when I’m nervous or under the gun,” he said.

That helps explain why his final-round scoring average over his last 17 starts is 68.05 – or nearly a full shot lower than his actual scoring average.

“I take a lot of pride in that,” he said.

Last week, McNealy locked into that performance state on the ninth hole, after making birdie on the hardest hole at La Costa’s Legends course. He added birdies on Nos. 10 and 13 and was cruising along at 4 under for the day.

Then he three-putted from 15 feet on 15 and heeled a 260-yard 3-wood into the lake on the par-5 17th. His wedge from 90 yards wasn’t great either, spinning back down the slope, about 40 feet away.

“Everything says that I’m out of the tournament,” he said, “but for some reason I didn’t feel like that. When things are going poorly, I’m not angry or frustrated or disappointed.”

The putt came off perfectly, and he walked off the green with an unlikely par. What happened next seemed inevitable: a perfect drive, a 190-yard 5-iron into the wind, a 30-foot birdie from the fringe, a win.

Most troubling for his future opponents is that McNealy has played (and won) this fall with a swing that isn’t where he wants it to be, with a driver that occasionally doesn’t cooperate, with a sagging energy level.

“He’s acquired a toolbox of skills that allow him to keep his number around the lead, and then once he is in the mix he has this ability to zero in and execute some clutch shots,” Stanford coach Conrad Ray said. “It’s interesting, because he hasn’t hit it as well as he can. But he has an ability to win now and not have his best stuff.”

At least part of McNealy’s fatigue can be attributed to the burden of being a top player – his nine wins since the start of last season are three more than any other player. Because of his national ranking, he’s looked at as the man to beat every time he tees it up. And more than ever, he is shouldering the load for his team, knowing that his score could make or break the Cardinal’s chances.

But there is also the academic component. Like any student-athlete not majoring in jock, McNealy has enjoyed all of this success while slogging through his heaviest workload yet at Stanford. His recent studies include a deep dive on (gulp) optimization quadratic programming, and during the Gifford he spent three hours a night working on a project with a teammate.

“It’s him grinding and the higher expectation levels on all fronts,” Ray said. “I don’t know that it will ever go away. Not now. His goals will continue to evolve, and depending on what level he reaches, there’s always an internal push to do the best you can.”

McNealy’s pursuit of 11 career titles at Stanford – a record set by Tiger Woods in the mid-1990s and matched by Patrick Rodgers in spring ’14 – will draw the most attention nationally. 

During McNealy’s sophomore year, after he won the first two events of the season, Rodgers texted him to slow down, to not break his record too soon. Now, after McNealy’s latest W put him within two of the mark, Rodgers needled his friend: What, not able to win outright anymore?

McNealy has 12 weeks until his next event, and there is work to be done. He wants to work on his driver, his biggest weakness. He wants to incorporate a few equipment changes. He wants to sharpen his preparation. And he wants to, well, enjoy his first break in years. “Active relaxation,” he said.  

McNealy said a few months ago that he isn’t even sure whether he will pursue a professional career after college. It was, and still is, a stunning declaration in this era of tweenage millionaires, but he hasn’t changed his stance, even after soaring to the top of the world amateur rankings. In fact, while some of his peers test Q-School or chase titles during college golf’s three-month offseason, McNealy will instead retreat into the background. He seems content simply to focus on his game, his teammates and his family.

“One of the things he does well is he doesn’t get caught up in the idea of being complacent,” Ray said. “He’s always in the fix mindset. He’s always thinking about ways to get better and improve. That’s really the game for him.

“He could take or leave the recognition and the status and the ranking. He has a mature stance on that stuff. The real intriguing thing, for him, is just chiseling away, like it’s a problem set for him. He just keeps working at it and puts his head down and doesn’t get caught up in the hoopla."

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Singh's lawsuit stalls as judge denies motion

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 7:54 pm

Vijay Singh’s attempts to speed up the proceedings in his ongoing lawsuit against the PGA Tour have been stalled, again.

Singh – who filed the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in May 2013 claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program when he was suspended, a suspension that was later rescinded – sought to have the circuit sanctioned for what his attorneys argued was a frivolous motion, but judge Eileen Bransten denied the motion earlier this month.

“While the court is of the position it correctly denied the Tour’s motion to argue, the court does not agree that the motion was filed in bad faith nor that it represents a ‘persistent pattern of repetitive or meritless motions,’” Bransten said.

It also doesn’t appear likely the case will go to trial any time soon, with Bransten declining Singh’s request for a pretrial conference until a pair of appeals that have been sent to the court’s appellate division have been decided.

“What really should be done is settle this case,” Bransten said during the hearing, before adding that it is, “unlikely a trail will commence prior to 2019.”

The Tour’s longstanding policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation, but earlier this month commissioner Jay Monahan was asked about the lawsuit.

“I'll just say that we're going through the process,” Monahan said. “Once you get into a legal process, and you've been into it as long as we have been into it, I think it's fair to assume that we're going to run it until the end.”

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Videos and images from Tiger's Tuesday at Torrey

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 7:45 pm

Tiger Woods played a nine-hole practice round Tuesday at Torrey Pines South, site of this week's Farmers Insurance Open. Woods is making his first PGA Tour start since missing the cut in this event last year. Here's a look at some images and videos of Tiger, via social media:

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Power Rankings: 2018 Farmers Insurance Open

By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:59 pm

The PGA Tour remains in California this week for the Farmers Insurance Open. A field of 156 players will tackle the North and South Courses at Torrey Pines, with weekend play exclusively on the South Course.

Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to to submit your picks for this week's event.

Jon Rahm won this event last year by three shots over Charles Howell III and C.T. Pan. Here are 10 names to watch in La Jolla:

1. Jon Rahm: No need to overthink it at the top. Rahm enters as a defending champ for the first time, fresh off a playoff win at the CareerBuilder Challenge that itself was preceded by a runner-up showing at Kapalua. Rahm is perhaps the hottest player in the field, and with a chance to become world No. 1 should be set for another big week.

2. Jason Day: The Aussie has missed the cut here the last two years, and he hasn't played competitively since November. But he ended a disappointing 2017 on a slight uptick, and his Torrey Pines record includes three straight top-10s from 2013-15 that ended with his victory three years ago.

3. Justin Rose: Rose ended last year on a tear, with three victories over his final six starts including two in a row in Turkey and China. The former U.S. Open winner has the patience to deal with a brutal layout like the South Course, as evidenced by his fourth-place showing at this event a year ago.

4. Rickie Fowler: This tournament has become somewhat feast-or-famine for Fowler, who is making his ninth straight start at Torrey Pines. The first four in that run all netted top-20 finishes, including two top-10s, while the last four have led to three missed cuts and a T-61. After a win in the Bahamas and T-4 at Kapalua, it's likely his mini-slump comes to an end.

5. Brandt Snedeker: Snedeker has become somewhat of a course specialist at Torrey Pines in recent years, with six top-10 finishes over the last eight years including wins in both 2012 and 2016. While he missed much of the second half of 2017 recovering from injury and missed the cut last week, Snedeker is always a threat to contend at this particular event.

6. Hideki Matsuyama: Matsuyama struggled to find his footing after a near-miss at the PGA Championship, but he appears to be returning to form. The Japanese phenom finished T-4 at Kapalua and has put up solid results in two of his four prior trips to San Diego, including a T-16 finish in his 2014 tournament debut. Matsuyama deserves a look at any event that puts a strong emphasis on ball-striking.

7. Tony Finau: Finau has the length to handle the difficult demands of the South Course, and his results have gotten progressively better each time around: T-24 in 2015, T-18 in 2016 and T-4 last year. Finau is coming off the best season of his career, one that included a trip to the Tour Championship, and he put together four solid rounds at the Sony Open earlier this month.

8. Charles Howell III: Howell is no stranger to West Coast golf, and his record at this event since 2013 includes three top-10 finishes highlighted by last year's runner-up showing. Howell chased a T-32 finish in Hawaii with a T-20 finish last week in Palm Springs, his fourth top-20 finish this season.

9. Marc Leishman: Leishman was twice a runner-up at this event, first in 2010 and again in 2014, and he finished T-20 last year. The Aussie is coming off a season that included two wins, and he has amassed five top-10s in his last eight worldwide starts dating back to the Dell Technologies Championship in September.

10. Gary Woodland: Woodland played in the final group at this event in 2014 before tying for 10th, and he was one shot off the lead entering the final round in 2016 before Mother Nature blew the entire field sideways. Still, the veteran has three top-20s in his last four trips to San Diego and finished T-7 two weeks ago in Honolulu.

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Davis on distance: Not 'necessarily good for the game'

By Will GrayJanuary 23, 2018, 6:28 pm

It's a new year, but USGA executive Mike Davis hasn't changed his views on the growing debate over distance.

Speaking with Matt Adams on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio, Davis didn't mince words regarding his perception that increased distance has had a negative impact on the game of golf, and he reiterated that it's a topic that the USGA and R&A plan to jointly address.

"The issue is complex. It's important, and it's one that we need to, and we will, face straight on," Davis said. "I think on the topic of distance, we've been steadfast to say that we do not think increased distance is necessarily good for the game."

Davis' comments echoed his thoughts in November, when he stated that the impact of increased distance has been "horrible" for the game. Those comments drew a strong rebuke from Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein, who claimed there was "no evidence" to support Davis' argument.

That argument, again reiterated Tuesday, centers on the rising costs associated with both acquiring and maintaining increased footprints for courses. Davis claimed that 1 in 4 courses in the U.S. is currently "not making money," and noted that while U.S. Open venues were 6,800-6,900 yards at the start of his USGA tenure, the norm is now closer to 7,400-7,500 yards.

"You ask yourself, 'What has this done for the game? How has that made the game better?'" Davis said. "I think if we look at it, and as we look to the future, we're asking ourselves, saying, 'We want the game of golf to be fun.' We want it to continue to be challenging and really let your skills dictate what scores you should shoot versus necessarily the equipment.

"But at the same time, we know there are pressures on golf courses. We know those pressures are going to become more acute."