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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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1, 2, 3 out: Thornberry, Suh, Morikawa lose at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 1:14 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The top three players in the world had a tough afternoon Wednesday at Pebble Beach.

Braden Thornberry, Justin Suh and Collin Morikawa – Nos. 1-3, respectively, in the World Amateur Golf Ranking – all lost their Round of 64 matches at the U.S. Amateur.

Thornberry lost, 2 and 1, to Jesus Montenegro of Argentina. As the No. 1 amateur in the world, the Ole Miss senior was in line to receive the McCormack Medal, which would exempt him into both summer Opens in 2019, provided he remains amateur. But now he’ll need to wait and see how the rankings shake out.

Suh and Morikawa could have played each other in the Round of 32, but instead they were both heading home early.


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Suh, a junior at USC, never led in his 1-up loss to Harrison Ott, while Cal's Morikawa lost to another Vanderbilt player, John Augenstein, in 19 holes.

Englishman Matthew Jordan is the fourth-ranked player in the world, but he didn’t make the 36-hole stroke-play cut.

The highest-ranked player remaining is Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, who is ranked fifth. With his college coach, Alan Bratton, on the bag, Hovland beat his Cowboys teammate, Hayden Wood, 3 and 2, to reach the Round of 32.

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Fiery Augenstein outduels Morikawa at U.S. Amateur

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 12:55 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Around the Vanderbilt golf team John Augenstein’s nickname is “Flash,” and it’s easy to see why.

The swing loaded with speed.

The on-course charisma.

The big shot in the big moment.

The Commodores junior added another highlight to his growing collection Wednesday, when he defeated world No. 3 Collin Morikawa in 19 holes during a Round of 64 match at the U.S. Amateur.

Out of sorts early at Pebble Beach, Augenstein was 2 down to Morikawa after butchering the short seventh and then misplaying a shot around the green on 8.

Standing on the ninth tee, he turned to Vanderbilt assistant coach/caddie Gator Todd: "I need to play the best 10 holes of my life to beat Collin."

And did he?

“I don’t know,” he said later, smirking, “but I did enough.”

Augenstein won the ninth hole after Morikawa dumped his approach shot into the hazard, drained a 30-footer on 10 to square the match and then took his first lead when he rolled in a 10-footer on 14.

One down with three holes to go, Morikawa stuffed his approach into 16 while Augenstein, trying to play a perfect shot, misjudged the wind and left himself in a difficult position, short and right of the green. Augenstein appeared visibly frustrated once he found his ball, buried in the thick ryegrass short of the green. He told Todd that he didn’t think he’d be able to get inside of Morikawa’s shot about 6 feet away, but he dumped his pitch shot onto the front edge, rode the slope and trickled it into the cup for an unlikely birdie.

“Come on!” he yelled, high-fiving Todd and tossing his wedge at his bag.

“It was beautiful,” Todd said. “I’m not sure how he did that, but pretty cool that it went in.”  


U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos


Morikawa answered by making birdie, then won the 17th with a par before both players halved the home hole with birdies.

On the first extra hole, Augenstein hit his approach to 15 feet while Morikawa left it short. Morikawa raced his first putt by 6 feet and then missed the comebacker to lose the match.

It may not have been the best 10-hole stretch of Augenstein’s career, but after that pep talk on 9 tee, he went 4 under to the house.

“He’s a fiery little dude,” Morikawa said of his 5-foot-8-inch opponent. “You don’t want to get him on the wrong side because you never know what’s going to happen. He’s not going to give shots away.”

The first-round match was a rematch of the Western Amateur quarterfinals two weeks ago, where Augenstein also won, that time by a 4-and-2 margin.

“It’s the most fun format and where I can be my true self – emotional and aggressive and beat people,” Augenstein said.

That’s what he did at the 2017 SECs, where he won the deciding points in both the semifinals and the finals. He starred again a few weeks later at the NCAA Championship, last season went 3-0 in SEC match play, and now has earned a reputation among his teammates as a primetime player.

“I’ve hit a lot of big shots and putts in my career,” said Augenstein, ranked 26th in the world after recently winning the Players Amateur. “I get locked in and focused, and there’s not a shot that I don’t think I can pull off. I’m not scared to fail.”

The comeback victory against Morikawa – a three-time winner last season at Cal and one of the best amateurs in the world – didn’t surprise Todd. He’s seen firsthand how explosive Augenstein can be on the course.

“He’s just fiery,” Todd said. “He does things under pressure that you’re not supposed to do. He’s just a special kid.”

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.

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Playoff streaks in jeopardy for Garcia, Haas

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:12 pm

Since the advent of the FedExCup in 2007, only 13 players have managed to make the playoffs each and every year. But two of the PGA Tour's stalwarts head into the regular-season finale with work to do in order to remain a part of that select fraternity.

Sergio Garcia has rarely had to sweat the top-125 bubble, but the Spaniard enters this week's Wyndham Championship 131st in the current standings. Left with even more work to do is former FedExCup winner Bill Haas, who starts the week in Greensboro 150th.

Garcia got off to a strong start in the spring, sandwiching a pair of top-10 finishes in WGC events around a fourth-place showing at the Valspar Championship. But quality results largely dried up after Garcia missed the cut at the Masters; he has made only two cuts in 10 Tour starts since April, including early exits in all four majors.


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Garcia has some history at Sedgefield Country Club, having won this event in 2012 to break a lengthy U.S. victory drought. He also finished fourth in 2009 but hasn't played the Donald Ross layout since a T-29 finish as the defending champ in 2013.

It's been a difficult year for Haas both on and off the course, as the veteran was involved as a passenger in a car accident on the eve of the Genesis Open that killed the driver. He returned to action three weeks later in Tampa, and he tied for seventh at the RBC Heritage in April. But that remains his lone top-10 finish of the season. Haas has missed 11 cuts including three in a row.

While the bubble will be a fluid target this week at Sedgefield, Garcia likely needs at least a top-20 finish to move into the top 125 while Haas will likely need to finish inside the top 5.

One of the 13 playoff streaks is assured of ending next week, as Luke Donald has missed most of the year with a back injury. Other players to qualify for every Tour postseason include Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Charles Howell III, Charley Hoffman and Ryan Moore.