PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Maverick McNealy’s plan was to use the NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship as a warm up for next week’s U.S. Amateur.
The Stanford junior did just that, and walked away with yet another trophy in the process.
Recently named to the 2015 U.S. Walker Cup squad, McNealy lived up to all the expectations—and tossed in some history—in winning the 112th NCGA Amateur Match Play Championship Friday at par-72 Spyglass Hill. In the 36-hole finale, McNealy defeated San Francisco’s Matt Cohn, 6 and 5.
“Spyglass Hill is a course I’ve played many times as a kid and I’ve played many tournaments here. To come out as the champion is pretty neat,” McNealy said.
If the week was any indication, McNealy should be ready to go at Olympia Fields. In Monday’s stroke play qualifying round, he’d fire an NCGA competitive low record 7-under 65 at Spyglass Hill. As the week progressed, he only continued to impress. Over the entire 123 holes he played, McNealy went 32-under. In between it all, he’d go on a streak where he played 83 straight holes at par or better.
“There are great conditions for me to prep for the U.S. Amateur. The course was as fast and firm as I’ve ever seen it,” McNealy said. “You had to be cognizant where you were landing it on the greens. I think I accomplished what I wanted to do in respect to preparing for next week.”
McNealy also found himself getting tested by Cohn. A 34-year-old tutor and college admissions consultant, Cohn took a 1-up lead over the heavy favorite twice within the first six holes with birdies.
“I actually felt more calm playing Mav, at least early on. But that’s probably because I knew it was a 36-hole match,” Cohn said.
Both leads only lasted a hole, but Cohn never wavered. With a birdie on the 14th, he’d cut a McNealy 2-up lead back to just 1-up.
The big difference in the morning round would be a McNealy birdie on the 17th and a Cohn bogey on the 18th that gave McNealy a 3-up lead at the break.
“On the 17th we almost had the exact same putt. He made his and I missed. You make a handful of mistakes…that’s the difference of playing someone of his caliber,” Cohn said. “It’s one swing here or one misread putt there. The little things compound when you’re facing a guy not making those mistakes.”
In the afternoon portion, McNealy tried to keep applying more heat. He’d build his lead to 4-up, but Cohn would not go away thanks primarily to some fantastic play around the greens.
On the par-4 22nd hole (No.4), McNealy made a terrific up-and-down for birdie from the greenside bunker. Cohn matched him with a brilliant wedge shot from off the green for birdie.
“It wasn’t an easy match. It was bloody. It was a difficult match for me psychologically,” McNealy said. “I’d be in control and he’d make a miraculous, unbelievable up-and-down. His short game was great. I had to refocus and try to make birdies and pars…whatever it took.”
Continuously pushed, on the 29th hole (the par-5 11th), McNealy finally re-took a 4-up lead by making a routine eagle. After that, Cohn ran out of magic. McNealy would seal the victory with pars on the 30th and 31st holes.
Despite the loss, for Cohn it was a day he’ll never forget.
“It was so much fun,” Cohn said. “It was exactly what I thought it would be. I played well most of the day and he played better.”
For McNealy, it’s now all about next week’s U.S. Amateur. He’ll head to Olympia Fields looking to become the first Northern California player to win the U.S. Amateur since Ricky Barnes in 2002.
“I’d love to bring that trophy back to NorCal,” he said.