Maverick McNealy wasn’t looking to bring attention to himself. He wasn’t doing it for the drama or the suspense. His big decision was never going to be the look-at-me television special that we saw seven years ago when NBA star LeBron James took his talents to South Beach to play for the Miami Heat.
Instead, the 21-year-old recent Stanford graduate, one of amateur golf’s top talents, thoughtfully crafted about 1,300 words to explain how he came to his conclusion – pro golf or the business world? – and why it took him nearly two years to do so.
On Wednesday afternoon, McNealy’s first-person account posted to the Cardinal’s athletics website, and in it he finally revealed his future plans.
“I am turning pro,” McNealy told Golfweek via phone earlier this week.
McNealy chose pro golf because of three factors: he loves the sport, he feels his game can get a lot better, and he wants to make an impact by giving back and inspiring younger players.
“I’m world ranking No. 1,700-something, and very different than being the No. 2-ranked player in the world,” said McNealy, the world’s second-ranked amateur – and former No. 1 – but ranked 1,794th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
“I’m a pretty small fish jumping into a massive pond right now, and that’s a little bit scary, but the only way I know how to deal with that is by working extremely hard and doing everything I can to get better.”
Every young golfer dreams of playing on the PGA Tour and winning major championships. Growing up in Portola Valley, less than an hour south of San Francisco, McNealy was no different. As a kid, he imagined himself hitting that putt to win the Masters, or the U.S. Open.
But for McNealy, those dreams were just that – dreams. His aspirations were more realistic.
“I wanted to be a Stanford golfer,” McNealy said, “and then I just assumed that I’d go into the business world.”
After all, McNealy’s father, Scott McNealy, is a successful businessman, and the former CEO of Sun Microsystems and more recently Denver-based Wayin. And McNealy was a skinny, unknown junior player who also played hockey before signing with the Cardinal in November 2012. Pro golf was never on his radar.
But quickly things changed. McNealy qualified for the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. He then won six times as a sophomore at Stanford, and four more times as a junior. He captured the 2015 Fred Haskins Award as college golf’s top player.
Suddenly, McNealy had agents and equipment reps salivating over him. Only McNealy wasn’t ready to give anyone an answer. Not even close.
He weighed his options in the same meticulous manner that he approached his studies at Stanford and his golf game. He sought advice from Stanford head coach Conrad Ray, former teammates Patrick Rodgers and Cameron Wilson, and mid-amateur Scott Harvey, among others.
“It’s been in his heart to play golf for quite a while, but he understood that it was a big decision and he had that maturity,” Ray said. “He saw both sides of the coin, which is valuable. … Amateur golf was something he really, really considered.”
Some of the best advice came from McNealy’s dad. Scott McNealy told his son, “You can’t make a wrong decision as long as you’re 100-percent committed to the decision and don’t look back.”
That gave McNealy confidence as he evaluated a long list of pros and cons. By the beginning of 2017, McNealy decided his wanted to pursue pro golf, starting the process to becoming a professional – lining up representation, sponsorships and exemptions. However, that unwavering commitment his dad talked about wasn’t there yet.
“It’s something that I’ve been thinking about and considering and wrestling with for quite a while,” McNealy said.
During the past year and a half, McNealy battled his golf game, as well. It started the spring of his junior season, as McNealy struggled down the stretch for the Cardinal and eventually stepped away for an extended period that summer to recover from adrenal fatigue. He won just once as a senior at Stanford, failing to break free of a three-way tie for the school wins record with Rodgers and Tiger Woods.
His college season ended in a disappointing T-76 finish at the NCAA Championship.
But the poor play never once affected McNealy’s impending decision.
“If I hit a bad shot or played a terrible round, it was never me talking to myself saying, ‘What are you thinking trying to do this for a living?’” McNealy said.
His game improved this summer, as he made two PGA Tour cuts, at the John Deere Classic and Barracuda Championship, and gained experience at two majors – the U.S. Open and British Open. He’ll represent the U.S. again at the Walker Cup, too.
After that, it’s time to turn pro. McNealy will be represented by agent Peter Webb of P3Sports Reps and plans to announced equipment and apparel deals soon. He will move to Las Vegas, near TPC Summerlin, before the end of August, and will work there with trainer Brian Chandler. His swing coach (Alex Murray) and physical therapist (Stanford staffer Angel Cabrera) will stay the same.
As for starts, McNealy has secured exemptions into the Safeway Open, Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Farmers Insurance Open, AT&T Byron Nelson and Dean & DeLuca Invitational. (He’s in the process of adding his seventh sponsor invite, and will also play Web.com Tour Q-School this fall.)
“A bucket-list item,” McNealy said of the Pebble Beach event, which he will play with his father.
McNealy knows the life of a pro golfer isn’t easy. He plans to rely on two core values that his dad gave him at an early age: hard work and integrity. Ray said McNealy has always thrived in environments where he’s been the underdog.
There is also no longer a Plan B.
“When you make the decision to be a professional golfer you have to be out there thinking that you want to be the best player in the world because everybody that you’re teeing it up against is thinking that, too,” McNealy said. “No one’s standing on the first tee thinking, ‘If I shoot a bad round today, I can just go work in the business world.’ … That’s not the way you’re going to be successful in anything is thinking that you have a fallback option.
“The way I’m looking at it is I’m jumping off a cliff right now, I’m jumping into the professional golf world, and there’s no looking back and there’s no second guessing.”