Maverick McNealy eliminated from U.S. Am by Connor Syme in potential Walker Cup preview

USGA

Maverick McNealy eliminated from U.S. Am by Connor Syme in potential Walker Cup preview

Amateur

Maverick McNealy eliminated from U.S. Am by Connor Syme in potential Walker Cup preview

PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIF. – Amateur-golf fans at Riviera Country Club on Wednesday got a taste of a potential Walker Cup matchup as Maverick McNealy took on Scotland’s Connor Syme in the Round of 64 at the 117th U.S. Amateur.

While McNealy, ranked second in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, and Syme, ranked 13th, have yet to officially make their respective Walker Cup teams (both will be announced on Monday), they are both likely to be there when the 2017 edition of the biennial matches begin Sept. 9 just down the road at Los Angeles Country Club.

And on Wednesday it was Syme taking down McNealy, 2 and 1.

“Obviously known Maverick from previous results in amateur golf,” Syme said. “He’s been right at the top of the rankings for the last kind of three, four years probably. Obviously got massive respect for his game, and as a person he’s such a nice guy.

“Yeah, just have to get down to business. I played very, very solid and tried not to give him much. I always thought he was going to come back at me, which he did. He never gave my anything on the back nine. … It was obviously a very difficult match, but I’m absolutely delighted to get through to the next round.”

McNealy and Syme met for the first time earlier this week, even though they both played in the British Open last month. (They each missed the weekend at Royal Birkdale.) After eight holes in their Round of 64 match, the score was all square, with each player winning one hole and Syme carding the only bogey during that span.

But then the Scot took control. McNealy bogeyed the ninth hole to fall 1 down, and Syme eagled the historic par-4 10th and birdied the par-5 11th to move to 3 up.

“On 12, my caddie, Travis, told me, ‘You’re going to have to earn two and he might give you one,'” McNealy said. “He ended up kind of giving me two.”

Syme bogeyed Nos. 13 and 14, and McNealy entered the par-3 16th just 1 down. However, his tee ball plugged just over the front lip in the front-right greenside bunker. He made a lengthy bogey save, but Syme needed just a two-putt for par to go dormie. He later won with birdie at the par-5 17th.

McNealy made just one birdie, and it was on that last hole.

“Just made a lot of pars, no birdies,” McNealy said. “Except for the last hole, but he ended up birdieing on top of me. I thought I had a chance, but for whatever reason I never really got anything going. Had putts that looked good but just didn’t quite get in. Had a lot of in between numbers and hit too many shots to like 40, 50 feet and was playing defensive on the greens.

“So I definitely had a chance, but he played very solid golf, to his credit. He didn’t make many mistakes at all.”

McNealy is heading home before Thursday at the U.S. Amateur for the second straight year. He made it to the Round of 16 in 2015 at Olympia Fields, but missed the match-play cut last year at Oakland Hills.

“Same as last year: I’m leaving here with a little bitter taste in my mouth,” McNealy said. “I could have done a lot better than I did. But that’s only motivation to work hard.”

McNealy, a member of the 2015 U.S. Walker Cup team, plans to head back to Stanford and practice for the next two weeks. He also said he expects to announce his decision on whether or not he will play pro golf next week.

“I know for sure tomorrow won’t be a day off,” McNealy said. “I’m still very confident in my game. I think I’ve seen flashes that I haven’t seen for a long time in my game this week. It’s just been trending the right way. I think for the last 9 or 12 months I felt like my game has been very close but just haven’t quite had that event or round or shot that kind of breaks me through.

“So I’m looking forward to hopefully getting a chance in two weeks and maybe get something going there.”

And perhaps get a rematch with Syme at LACC.

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