Stanford’s McNealy starts sophomore season strong

When Maverick McNealy starts classes Monday, the Stanford sophomore will do so having already won two golf tournaments this fall.

McNealy opened the new season Sept. 8-9 at the Southwestern Intercollegiate with his first collegiate victory, then added his second win five days later, sharing medalist honors at the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational.

“It’s been fun,” McNealy said. “I’ve played some awesome golf and it’s been a huge confidence boost for me.”

McNealy credits his early success this season partly to his summer experiences at the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur. He missed the cut at both Pinehurst No. 2 and Atlanta Athletic Club, but at the same time “discovered the top end of my game.”

“I feel like I’ve raised the feeling of how good I think I can be,” McNealy said. “Seeing those guys play, I learned how much better they are and that there’s still a lot I have to work on.”

McNealy arrived at Stanford last season as somewhat of an unknown. Fellow sophomore Jim Liu, the 2010 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, was the highlight of last year’s recruiting class while McNealy was a local kid from Portola Valley, Calif., who had spent most of his life playing more hockey than golf.

“He was pretty young golf-wise, but was so athletic,” Stanford head coach Conrad Ray said. “You just knew that when he really focused on golf he had tremendous upside.”

Prior to his freshman season at Stanford, McNealy hung up his competitive skates and hit the range, and by the end of last season, he had racked up nine starts, including in each of the Cardinal’s three postseason events, and three top 10s.

A quick study, McNealy also learned from two of the best players in the country a year ago, Patrick Rodgers and Cameron Wilson – “He just soaked everything up,” Ray said.

This year, he’s among those being counted on to replace those two All-Americans.

“I think we’re all excited to step up,” said McNealy, who is one of three returners from last year’s NCAA Championship lineup along with junior David Boote and sophomore Viraat Badhwar.

“We’ve been telling each other that everyone will be talking about what we lost. But we want them to be talking about how each of us has improved. … It’s definitely a different team dynamic without Patrick and Cameron, but hopefully by the end of the year, we have nine guys playing awesome.”

McNealy’s game has been just that through two events this fall. He shot 10-under 203 to win by five shots and help the Cardinal to the team title at the Southwestern. He made 14 birdies and an eagle at North Ranch while bookending a second-round 72 with rounds of 66 and 65.

And at Olympia Fields, he got off to another strong start, playing his first 11 holes in 2 under. He posted three straight rounds of 1-over 71 on a tough golf course against an elite field. Stanford finished fourth as a team.

McNealy came into the year with high expectations, yet he said his goals weren’t necessarily results-based. Now, he’s already won twice, gotten his first taste of sleeping on a lead, and also kept a pretty impressive streak alive.

His two victories marked the ninth straight tournament in which a Stanford player has won or shared medalist honors.

“At the least, it’s a very cool stat,” McNealy said. “But Stanford is an incredible place. You learn a lot of invaluable things here. It takes a lot to succeed, not only on the golf course, but also in the classroom. Nothing comes easy.

“You’re constantly keeping your nose to the grindstone, whether it’s meeting a deadline for an assignment or coming down the stretch to win a golf tournament.”

McNealy’s quest for three straight medals – and 10 straight for Stanford – begins Oct. 6 at the Swoosh Invitational in Fort Worth, Texas.

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