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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.”

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After Further Review: Nelson lost in the shuffle?

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 21, 2018, 3:40 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the Nelson's future ...

If the goal was “different” by bringing the AT&T Byron Nelson to Trinity Forest, consider it achieved. But bringing a world-class field south of Dallas could still be tricky.

Yes, the tournament can always rely on local resident and AT&T spokesman Jordan Spieth to throw his hat in the ring. But even with Spieth strolling the fairways this week, the field strength was among the worst all season for a full-point event.

The debut of the sprawling, links-like layout likely did little to sway the undecideds, with only the third round offering the challenging conditions that course co-designer Ben Crenshaw had envisioned. And the schedule won’t do them any favors next year, as a revamped itinerary likely puts the Nelson right before the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

The course will inevitably get better with age, and Spieth expects positive word of mouth to spread. But it might be a while before the stars truly align for an event that, for the moment, feels lost in the shuffle of a hectic schedule. – Will Gray


On Jordan Spieth's putting ...

Jordan Spieth’s putting is plainly bad right now, but it isn’t going to stay this bad forever.

He is the second ranked player on Tour in strokes gained: tee-to-green, just like he was last year. This putting slump has lingered, but it’s unfathomable to think this guy just forgot how to putt.

Sooner rather than later he’s going to remember he’s Jordan Spieth and the 40-footers are going to start pouring in. He’ll be telling Greller to go get the ball because he’s too far away and the tee is in the other direction.

Bottom line, the ball striking is for real and the putting slump will pass. He’ll win soon – maybe even as soon as this week. – Nick Menta


On golf and gambling ...

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court over tuned a federal ban on sports betting in most states, a move the PGA Tour and many professional sports leagues embraced as a tool to both build fan interest and grow revenue.

Experts estimate sports betting could become a $150-$200 billion annual industry, and even a small piece of that could be significant for golf, but there will be risks.

Unlike any other sport, golf is played on multiple fields simultaneously, which inherently creates risks when gambling is introduced to the equation. Although the Tour has gone to great pains to head off any potential problems, like all bets gambling comes with great rewards, and great risks. – Rex Hoggard

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Wise continues whirlwind ascent with first win

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 3:13 am

DALLAS – Still shy of his 22nd birthday, Aaron Wise continues to prove himself to be a quick learner.

Wise went from unheralded prospect to NCAA individual champ seemingly in the blink of an eye while at the University of Oregon. After eschewing his final two years of eligibility in Eugene, he won in Canada on the Mackenzie Tour in his third start as a professional.

He continued a quick learning curve with a win last year on the Web.com Tour to propel him to the big leagues, and he didn’t flinch while going toe-to-toe with Jason Day two weeks ago, even though the result didn’t go his way.

Faced with another opportunity to take down a top-ranked Aussie, Wise made sure he got the job done Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson – even though it took until dark.

With mid-day rains turning a firm and fast layout into a birdie barrage, Wise seamlessly switched gears and put his first PGA Tour title on ice in impressive fashion with a bogey-free 65. Deadlocked with Marc Leishman to start the day, Wise made six birdies in his first 10 holes and coasted to a three-shot win as the leaders barely beat the setting sun to avoid an anticlimactic Monday finish at Trinity Forest Golf Club.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


As it turned out, the hardest part of the day was enduring the four-hour weather delay alongside his mother, Karla, as his afternoon tee time turned into a twilight affair.

“She was talking to me in the hotel about what a win could mean, what a second could mean, kind of taking me through all that,” Wise said. “I was like, I’ve got to calm down. I can’t just sit here. I said, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I kind of made her leave the room.”

Wise displayed some jitters right out of the gates, with a nervy three-putt par on the opening hole. But with several players going on birdie runs to turn what seemed like a two-man race into a much more wide-open affair, Wise went on a tear of his own with four birdies in a row on Nos. 7-10.

That gave him a window over Leishman and the rest of the chase pack, and he never looked back.

“I talked to myself and kind of made myself trust my putting,” Wise said. “These greens out here are really tricky, and for me to roll those putts in on 8 and 9 really kind of separated things.”

Leishman had held at least a share of the lead after each round, and the 34-year-old veteran was looking for his third win in the last 14 months. But a bogey on No. 10 coincided with a Wise birdie to boost the rookie’s advantage from two shots to four, and Leishman never got closer than three shots the rest of the way.

“He holed putts he needed to hole, and I didn’t,” Leishman said. “Hit a couple loose shots where I could have probably put a bit of pressure on him, and didn’t. And that’s probably the difference in the end.”

Instead of sitting next to a trophy in Dallas, Wise could have been closing out his senior season next week with an NCAA appearance at Karsten Creek. But the roots of his quick climb trace back to the Master of the Amateurs in Australia in December 2015, a tournament he won and one that gave him confidence that he could hold his own against the best in the world. He returned to Eugene and promptly told his coach, Casey Martin, that he planned to turn pro in the spring.

The same dogged confidence that drove that decision has been the guiding force behind a whirlwind ascent through every rung of the professional ladder.

“I just have a lot of belief in myself. I didn’t come from a lot. A lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t get to travel a bunch when I played junior golf,” Wise said. “Kind of all along it’s been very, very few moments to shine and I have had to take advantage of them.”

Despite that belief, even Wise admits that he’s “shocked” to turn only his second real chance to contend at this level into a maiden victory. But fueled by the memories of a close call two weeks ago, he put the lessons learned at Quail Hollow to quick use while taking the next step in an increasingly promising career arc.

“It was awesome, everything I dreamed of,” Wise said. “To walk up 18, knowing I kind of had it locked up, was pretty cool.”

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Grace celebrates birthday with final-round 62

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:51 am

DALLAS – Branden Grace celebrated his 30th birthday in style, making the biggest charge of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

Grace closed out a 9-under 62 as the sun began to set at Trinity Forest Golf Club, moving from outside the top 10 into a share of third place, four shots behind Aaron Wise. It equaled Grace’s career low on the PGA Tour, which he originally set last summer at The Open, and it was one shot off Marc Leishman’s course-record 61 from the opening round.

“Good birthday present. It was fun,” Grace said. “Little bit of imagination, little bit of luck here and there. You get more luck on the links golf course than maybe on a normal golf course.”


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


Weeks after Grace’s wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, he now has his best result on the PGA Tour since winning the RBC Heritage more than two years ago. As a world traveler and former Presidents Cup participant, the South African embraced an opportunity this week to go off the beaten path on an unconventional layout.

“It feels like a breath of fresh air coming to something different. Really is nice. I really enjoyed the golf course,” he said. “Obviously I think we got really lucky with the weather, and that’s why the scores are so low. It can bite you if it settles in a little bit in the next couple years.”

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Scott barely misses qualifying for U.S. Open

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 1:33 am

DALLAS – A birdie on the 72nd hole gave Adam Scott a glimmer of hope, but in the end even a closing 65 at the AT&T Byron Nelson wasn’t enough to earn an exemption into next month’s U.S. Open.

Scott entered the week ranked No. 65 in the world, and the top 60 in next week’s rankings automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills. The cutoff was a big reason why the 2008 tournament champ returned for Trinity Forest’s debut, and midway through the final round it seemed like the Aussie had a shot at snagging a bid at the 11th hour.

Scott needed at least a solo ninth-place finish to pass an idle Chesson Hadley at No. 60, and while his 5-footer on the 18th green gave him a share of sixth place when he completed play, he ultimately ended up in a three-way tie for ninth at 15 under – barely short of a spot in the top 60.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


“I tried to make the most of really favorable conditions today, and I did a pretty good job of it. Just never really got a hot run going,” Scott said. “I feel like I struggled on the weekend reading the greens well enough to really get it going, but I think everyone but the leaders did that, too. They’re not the easiest greens to read.”

Scott has played each of the last three weeks in an effort to earn a U.S. Open exemption, and he’ll make it four in a row next week when he returns to the Fort Worth Invitational on a course where he won in 2013. Scott still has another chance to avoid sectional qualifying by earning a top-60 spot at the second and final cutoff on June 11 following the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Scott has played 67 majors in a row, a streak that dates back to 2001 and is second only to Sergio Garcia among active players. While he’s prepared to play each of the next three weeks in a last-ditch effort to make the field, he’s taking his schedule one event at a time with the hope that one more good result might take care of business.

“I’ll play next week and hopefully play really well, and give myself a bit of cushion so I can take a week or so off and try to prepare the best I can for the U.S. Open,” Scott said.