Stanford sophomore golfer Maverick McNealy has some big shoes to fill this season. Some awfully big shoes. We’re talking clown-sized footwear, here.
McNealy and Co. are charged with the nearly impossible task of attempting to follow in the footsteps of two Cardinal living legends: the recently graduated Cameron Wilson and would-be senior Patrick Rodgers, both of whom are currently pursuing professional golf careers.
Wilson and Rodgers, arguably two of the best golfers to come through the Farm since Tiger Woods in the mid-1990s, are gone, and they’re not coming back. The book has been closed; the door sealed shut on what was an incredibly successful campaign for the Card. That’s certainly a tough pill to swallow for a squad that cruised to Pac-12 and NCAA Regional titles in May and made it to the semifinal round of the NCAA match play championships.
And although all signs point to a big drop-off for Conrad Ray’s squad due to the absence of two superstars, McNealy is having none of the regression talk, and it’s showed in his play. The sophomore from Portola Valley, California has picked up right where Wilson and Rodgers left off, winning his squad’s first two fall events at the Southwestern Intercollegiate and the Olympia Fields/Fighting Illini Invitational, respectively.
Eight Cardinal have won two or more events in same season: 8 – Woods, 6 – Rodgers, 3 – Wilson, Miller, Kribel, 2 – McNealy, Begay, and Grube
— Stanford Men’s Golf (@StanfordMGolf) September 16, 2014
“I felt like I improved a lot last year, made a lot of long term decisions and worked on some things that I felt were going to make me a better player in the long-run,” McNealy said. “I think they’re starting to pay-off now.
“I got to school [my freshman year] and realized that my ball-striking was OK, but the guys on the team and the guys I was playing against in college were much better putters than I was. So I made a couple of adjustments early on. In the first two events, putting has actually been the strongest part of my game, which is full-circle from the beginning of last year and has really helped me a lot.”
McNealy’s personal improvement has already given his team a boost as well: Stanford took team medalist honors at the Southwestern Intercollegiate and finished fourth in a strong field at Olympia Fields. The Cardinal have now won five of its last seven events dating back to the end of last season, a trend Ray hopes to continue throughout the remainder of the team’s fall schedule.
“We’re trying to identify weaknesses and strengths, and I think the good teams are really good at evolving as the season goes on,” Ray said. “Whether that’s individually — each guy taking a strong look at what areas of his game need to improve — or as a team, through lineup changes or who fills what slot and what role.
“That’s how we look at the process, and what we’re trying to do this fall is see what evolves.”
For that development to occur, however, the Card will need much more than the efforts of McNealy. Fellow sophomores Viraat Badhwar and Jim Liu must also step up to fill the gaping holes left by their predecessors; both played heavily in their freshman campaigns, and will be expected to become on and off-course leaders on the young squad.
“We feel good about what they’re doing…I think a lot depends on them, too, and how hard they continue to work,” Ray said. “It was nice to see Jim, who had a tough freshman year, come out of the gates with two top-10s this past week. That’s impressive for him; he has an unbelievable résumé and experience behind him. If he can catch his strides, that will be a really helpful thing for our team.”
Another key player for Stanford for the fall and beyond is junior David Boote, who was perhaps the surprise of the NCAA individual championship in June. Boote, who was born in England but competes for Wales internationally, finished T-3rd at NCAAs, two spots behind teammate and titlist Cameron Wilson. Though it was just his second top-10 placing of the year, Boote has proven he knows when to play well when it counts. He will rejoin the team this week after competing in several international events over the past month, including a tournament in Japan and on the European Tour.
Unlike last season, the Card will play five fall events instead of four; next up is the Swoosh Invitational in Fort Worth, TX, which is scheduled to begin Monday. After ten days off, Stanford will return to the competitive Georgia Tech-hosted U.S. Collegiate Championship and finish off their five-event slate at the Gifford Collegiate in nearby San Martin.
“I think it’s going to be a really competitive team this year,” McNealy said. “Everyone is looking to get better. I keep telling the guys, ‘Let’s make this year not about what we lost from last year, but how the nine of us improved and got better every day and ended up being a legitimate national championship contender.’”
Contact Cameron Miller at cmiller6 ‘at’ stanford.edu.