Story by Brentley Romine
As a management science and engineering major, Stanford's Maverick McNealy spends a lot of time on his studies. He puts in equal the amount of effort on his golf game.
For example, McNealy wrote a computer program to track his statistics on the course. Using those numbers, McNealy can see what areas of his game he needs to improve on and what areas he's excelling in. Not sure how one computes strokes gained-putting? McNealy knows how, and he's aware that his putting has been key in his recent success.
"Statistically speaking, my putting is about three shots better each round (compared to last season)," McNealy said. "That's really been the difference between finishing 25th and finishing first."
As a freshman, McNealy didn't win a tournament. This season, he's won four times, including most recently at The Goodwin, Stanford's home event.
• Haskins Award Watch List: April 2, 2015
While McNealy has thrived for the Cardinal, developing into the team's No. 1 player and a Haskins Award frontrunner, he hasn't taken any shortcuts. He spent his freshman year learning behind Patrick Rodgers and Cameron Wilson, former Stanford players and last year's Haskins Award winner and NCAA individual champion, respectively.
"He just soaked up everything those guys did like a sponge," Stanford head coach Conrad Ray said.
McNealy's desire to get better has continued this year. After every tournament, Ray meets with his players to discuss how they played, what they did well and what they need to work on. Ray's meeting with McNealy after The Goodwin wasn't all positive, and McNealy likes it that way.
"It's hard when he just won a tournament to pick out anything he did wrong, but he wants to know how he can improve," Ray said. "There's always going to be stuff to split hairs on, and he gets the most mileage off of that."
Soon after that meeting, McNealy was working on his downhill, short putts.
It's that kind of attention to detail that Ray believes separates McNealy from a lot of players his age.
"His curve of improvement and development has been steep," Ray said. "He's an unbelievable worker and he's very smart."
McNealy's role on the team has quickly changed, as well. Last season, he almost always had the first tee time at tournaments.
"I was playing as the five guy most of the time," McNealy said. "It was a very different role than what I have now."
Last fall, McNealy arrived at the team's first tournament, the Southwestern Intercollegiate, as the team's No. 1 player. He had trouble adjusting to his new role, and having a later tee time, so he phoned Rodgers.
"I called Patrick after the first two rounds and asked him what he did to kill time before a round," McNealy said. "I had never gone off last and I was getting off to slow starts because of that."
McNealy went on two win that week. He won his next event, too, at Olympia Fields.
"All of a sudden, I get back to school and I have two wins," McNealy said.
Said Ray: "He proved to himself that he could compete and win."
But McNealy couldn't hold onto that momentum. He closed the fall with two straight finishes outside the top 12, including a T-21 showing at the Gifford Collegiate, and entered the winter "trending downward."
"I had to step back and really evaluate my game," McNealy said.
Not that his game needed much work, and a trip to the Walker Cup practice session showed McNealy that he belonged among the best players in college golf.
"It was a neat honor for him and he relished in that," Ray said. "It was a big confidence booster for him."
This spring, McNealy has won twice and also finished runner-up at the Amer Ari Invitational. He struggled at the Querencia Cabo Collegiate, tying for 20th, but rebounded at The Goodwin.
"I've done a better job of bouncing back from disappointing events, too," McNealy said. "But I'm still learning. I haven't figured everything out."
He has, however, figured out how to win golf tournaments.