Editor’s note: This story appeared in the February 2017 issue of Golfweek Magazine.
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Pro golf or the business world? Maverick McNealy was supposed to have made a decision this winter. He was supposed to have determined whether he wanted to turn pro after this September’s Walker Cup and chase a PGA Tour card, or if he would remain an amateur and put his degree in management science and engineering to use.
But in typical McNealy fashion, the Stanford senior is still analyzing the data before he makes what certainly will be a well thought-out, informed and, most importantly, passion-driven decision.
“I’m really not worried about it right now,” said the 21-year-old McNealy, who intends to have an answer on his future by the end of the summer. “I have two good options, and I’m just enjoying being at school and playing golf right now and not weighing myself down with any decision-making.”
For now, it’s all about golf.
McNealy will have his lightest course load in four years at Stanford in his last two quarters – he’s taking 12 units now before wrapping up his final quarter with just five. He plans to devote that additional time to his game and getting more accustomed to his new assortment of sticks. After playing all Nike clubs, McNealy now has an eclectic bag that includes a Callaway driver, hybrids and wedges, and TaylorMade irons. (He has kept his Nike 3-wood and putter.)
“I’m going to be able to give myself every chance to be great,” McNealy said.
Some would argue he already is. McNealy, the world’s top-ranked amateur, is a two-time, first-team All-American (he projects to earn first-team honors again this season) and a Fred Haskins Award recipient (he won the prestigious award as a sophomore). He also is tied for the school’s all-time wins record after capturing the Nike Golf Collegiate Invitational last fall, his 11th individual title at Stanford.
The two Cardinal alums who McNealy is tied with: Patrick Rodgers and Tiger Woods. Not that he needs that added drive.
“He’s really super self-motivated,” Stanford coach Conrad Ray said. “He has some really high goals that he wants to go after. He wants to see how good he can get.”
Should McNealy get to victory No. 12, he doesn’t plan on hitting the brakes.
“If I were to say that 12 (wins) was my goal, I might be a little disappointed if I only win once this spring,” McNealy said.
He’ll be even more disheartened if he can’t lead his team to an NCAA title this spring at Rich Harvest Farms near Chicago. McNealy always has been a team player, whether in golf or when he used to play ice hockey as a teenager. So it’s no surprise when McNealy says, “I’d trade any number of individual wins for a national championship.”
“I think he really has been vocal about how his focus is on the team and our performance,” said Ray, whose Cardinal squad entered the spring ranked ninth by Golfweek.
As McNealy’s father, Scott McNealy, has said in the past: “The most pressure he feels is to win a team NCAA Championship.”
McNealy will feel similar pressure this summer when he nears his big decision. Sure, pro golf has its incentives. But so would co-founding a start-up company. (Scott McNealy helped establish Sun Microsystems, which sold to Oracle in 2010 for $7.4 billion.)
“I think in his mind that this stretch now allows him to really investigate deeply, spend a bunch of time with not a lot of class on his plate, really diving into his golf and spending the time and attention on it that he knows he’s going to need to if he decides to play professionally,” Ray said. “He’s noodling on it for sure, and he’s starting to have all those correct conversations, but he hasn’t gotten there yet.”
Said McNealy: “I think when it comes time to make the decision it will be pretty clear which way I should go.”
It’s hard to know which way McNealy is leaning. It’s not difficult, however, to notice that McNealy still possesses a lot of love for golf.
He was excited to get back on the course and compete with his teammates last weekend in Hawaii at the Amer Ari Invitational. He also can’t wait to get another shot at bringing the Walker Cup back to American soil – should he be selected, of course, to compete for U.S. captain Spider Miller’s team at Los Angeles Country Club.
Oh, and then there’s guaranteed starts in two majors this year – the U.S. Open at Erin Hills and the British Open at Royal Birkdale – thanks to winning the McCormack Medal, given to the world’s top amateur at the end of each amateur season.
McNealy already knows of one schedule conflict: “Graduation is June 18, the Sunday of the U.S. Open.
“Hopefully I miss it.”