SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – Maverick McNealy’s college career ended quietly Sunday, with few fans left at Rich Harvest Farms and the top teams back at their hotel and the leader 17 shots ahead.
For the third consecutive year, No. 2-ranked Stanford failed to survive the 54-hole cut at the NCAA Championship. It was the final chapter of McNealy’s fascinating career, as he rose from overlooked No. 5 man to Player of the Year to, now, the will-he-or-won’t-he? star who earlier this week won the Hogan Award as the nation’s top amateur and college player.
“I couldn’t have imagined a better four years,” McNealy said. “Very mixed emotions. I’m sad it’s all over but excited for whatever comes next.”
Most immediately, McNealy will play in the Palmer Cup and then turn his attention to the U.S. and British opens, for which he is exempt by virtue of winning the McCormack Medal. He is expected to remain an amateur through at least the Walker Cup in September, and he says that he still has not decided if he will turn pro.
“I think the decision will become more and more clear the closer I get to it,” he said.
For now, McNealy and his teammates are left to ponder why they’re leaving another NCAAs early.
McNealy, who entered nationals with four consecutive top-7 finishes, shot rounds of 76-71-74 to tie for 76th. It remains the only hole in his otherwise spectacular résumé – he finished outside the top 35 individually all four years at NCAAs.
Stanford, meanwhile, finished 20th in the team race, eight shots behind UCF for the 15th spot. No Cardinal player finished 54 holes under par; Isaiah Salinda was T-44 at even par.
“It’s tough because the last few years we’ve had good teams that have come to nationals and not played well, and that’s a fact,” Stanford coach Conrad Ray said. “So we’re going to have to go back to campus and think about that and figure out if we do anything different with preparation or mental approach.
“I do think the nature of the games we have, they’re really analytical, really bright, really smart guys, and they work hard. But I think sometimes there’s a little bit of going down the double-black diamond at NCAAs, and you’ve got to let it go and not control it so much.”
McNealy will go down as one of the most successful players in program history, his 11 career titles tied for the most all time with Tiger Woods (two years) and Patrick Rodgers (three).
Even more than McNealy’s on-course success, Ray said that his star “epitomizes doing things the right way” – even in the middle of his disappointing finish, McNealy walked over to Rich Harvest Farms owner Jerry Rich on the 15th hole Sunday just to thank him for hosting the 156 players this week.
“He’s been an amazing kid to coach, an absolute role model in every sense of the world, a student-athlete through and through, and he’s definitely left his mark on our program,” Ray said. “I’d be blessed if I was able to find another guy like him.”