BRADENTON, Fla. – Maverick McNealy remembers the sick feeling he felt 53 weeks ago when he posted rounds of 75-82-79 at NCAA regionals and was worried about whether or not he was going to merit a roster spot at the NCAA men’s golf championships.
Fast-forward to the present and the 19-year-old Stanford sophomore capped a remarkable season as the winner of the 2015 Haskins Award, which is given to college golf’s top player.
“I just could not have imagined this year happening,” McNealy said.
The statistics that McNealy tracks on his computer tell the story of his rapid rise. He turned a weakness into a strength, improving his putting by 3.5 strokes per round this season.
“Multiply that by three rounds and that’s the difference between 25th place, which was a good finish for me last year, and first place,” said McNealy. “I finally feel like I’m one of the better putters in college right now.”
McNealy, of Portola Valley, Calif., is the No. 1 player in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings and the second straight Stanford golfer to earn the award (Patrick Rodgers, 2014).
“I won the first two events of the year and Patrick said, ‘Hold on. Slow down. I don’t want you to break my record too soon,’ ” McNealy said.
McNealy, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, came close, matching Rodgers for second-most wins in a season in Stanford history with six, including victories at the Chapel Hill Regional and Pac-12 Championship. The pair trails Tiger Woods, who won eight times in 1996.
McNealy has the lowest scoring average in the nation at 68.70, according to Golfstat.
“After a good putting round I’m always excited to punch in the numbers,” he said. His low round of the season came at the Pac-12 Championship, where he closed with a 61 at Palouse Ridge Golf Club to win by 10 shots and tie Tiger Woods and Cameron Wilson for the single-round school record. That week, McNealy broke his own putting record twice in the same tournament, including +4 strokes gained-putting in shooting 61.
McNealy said that he had stood on many shoulders and accepted many helping hands along the way. He singled out his Stanford coach, Conrad Ray, and former teammates Rodgers and Wilson for the way they took the newcomer under their wings last season.
“I was that freshman that copied everything they did,” McNealy said.
The Haskins Award, presented by Stifel, is given annually to the best player in college golf, as voted by the players, coaches and media.
“It is so humbling to be in the same conversation with the list of winners,” said McNealy, who earns an exemption into the 2015 Greenbrier Classic.
Previous recipients of the award include: Hunter Mahan (2003), Graeme McDowell (2002), Matt Kuchar (1998), Tiger Woods (1996), Phil Mickelson (1990-92), Brad Faxon (1983) and Ben Crenshaw (1971-73).
The award was presented to McNealy at The Concession Golf Club in Bradenton, Fla., site of the 2015 NCAA Championship. McNealy and the Cardinal were bounced early from the event after missing the 54-hole stroke play cut.
– Andy Zunz contributed