Still chasing Tiger, Stanford's Maverick McNealy arrives at NCAA swan song with peace of mind

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Still chasing Tiger, Stanford's Maverick McNealy arrives at NCAA swan song with peace of mind

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Still chasing Tiger, Stanford's Maverick McNealy arrives at NCAA swan song with peace of mind

SUGAR GROVE, Ill. – Every freshman that has had the opportunity to play alongside Maverick McNealy this season has likely heard the same sage advice from the decorated Stanford senior.

Don’t blink.

“It goes way too fast,” said McNealy, channeling his inner Kenny Chesney.

For McNealy, his four-year collegiate career has flown by; just like that. Eleven career victories, tied for a Stanford record. A Haskins Award in 2015 and a Hogan Award this year (he was awarded on Monday). No. 1 rankings, both college and amateur, and All-American honors.

And now, McNealy’s college swan song has arrived. This week at Rich Harvest Farms, the once scrawny hockey player turned Stanford stalwart from Portola Valley, Calif., will play his final college event, at the NCAA Championship.

“An amazing career for four years,” Stanford head coach Conrad Ray said. “He’s left his legacy with our program, no question. It is bittersweet … but it will be fun to see how the last one (tournament) goes.”

Stanford’s Maverck McNealy is awarded the 2015 Haskins Award. (Tracy Wilcox/Golfweek)

The NCAA Championship has been a tournament that has eluded McNealy. While he was on the Cardinal team that made the national match-play semifinals in 2014, McNealy tied for 55th that year in stroke play. He’s followed with finishes of T-35 and T-112, though a year ago in Eugene he was battling adrenal fatigue.

“If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger,” Ray said.

And this year, McNealy feels stronger than ever. The 21-year-old enters the week in Chicagoland as Golfweek’s third-ranked collegian, with seven top 10s in 10 starts, including one victory.

The surprising stat, however, is the one individual title, which he earned in the fall to tie the school wins record held by Patrick Rodgers and Tiger Woods. McNealy is still at 11 – partially a product of equipment testing last winter (McNealy has since switched back into his old, trusty Nike clubs sans his TaylorMade driver and ball) – though he nearly broke the tie two weeks ago at the NCAA Stanford Regional. He was tied with Oklahoma’s Brad Dalke with two holes left, but finished with back-to-back double bogeys to end up third.

“It was one of those things where everything just seems to go the wrong way, but I feel like the feelings I’ve had coming down the stretch in the last quite of few tournaments, I’ve learned so much more about how I need to compete and win,” McNealy said. “As strange as it sounds, I feel like I’m re-learning how to win golf tournaments right now.”

An 11-time college golfer re-learning how to win? McNealy answers that question with a quote from his sports psychologist, Angela Pampling, wife of PGA Tour player Rod Pampling.

“On the PGA Tour you have earning years and you have learning years,” McNealy said. “And I definitely had a learning year this year.”

But winning individual titles isn’t everything. McNealy said he’d trade all 11 of his wins for a team NCAA title. During McNealy’s post-regional debriefing meeting with Ray, the wins record came up in conversation. Ray gave McNealy some tough love.

“I said to him candidly,” Ray said, “ ‘You know, take this the right way, but Tiger did it in two years missing two or three tournaments because of the Masters and World Am. You can compare yourself to that, but that’s a pretty high bar. And Patrick did it in three years and you did it in four.”

Said McNealy: “The message was, ‘You have an incredible opportunity here with the team, first and foremost. And second, if you’re 40, 50 years old looking back on your college career, it’d be pretty cool to be tied with Patrick and Tiger.’ ”

Of course, there’s no reason McNealy can’t have both: a team national title and his 12th career victory in the form of an NCAA medal.

Now that would be pretty cool.

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