SOUTHPORT, England — The will-he-or-won’t-he saga of Maverick McNealy turning professional appears to be nearing an end. Playing in the Open Championship thanks to being the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world at the end of last summer, the 21-year-old said he’s preparing as if he’s going to play professional golf with a final decision coming after next month’s U.S. Amateur.
Signals that this would be the direction the now Stanford graduate would be heading have come throughout the year. A T-44 finish at the John Deere Classic last week, the fourth time he’s made a cut in six starts as an amateur PGA Tour, was the latest instance in which he’s tested his game in a pro event and felt comfortable about his prospects for making the jump.
Granted, he might have been second-guessing himself after his opening round at Royal Birkdale. Playing in the day’s second threesome at 6:46 a.m. local time, amid a steady early morning rain and winds of 20-25 mph, McNealy began by hitting his 3-iron opening tee shot out of bounds right en route to a triple-bogey 7. Welcome to the Open, lad.
“The first two holes, the weather was just shocking,” McNealy said. “I’ve honestly never played in anything like that.
While conditions eased up some, McNealy struggled, making seven more bogeys before posting a six-over 78.
Working against McNealy was the fact his solid play at TPC Deere Run (he posted four rounds in the 60s) meant a late arrival to Birkdale on Monday. He has the club's caddiemaster, Ian Rodwell, on his bag, helping coach him through practice rounds and near about Birkdale's nooks and crannies, but that can only go so far. “I think the combination of lack of experience and not spending a ton of time over here, I wasn’t prepared for conditions today.”
While winning college player-of-the-year honors as a sophomore in 2015 and matching Tiger Woods and Patrick Rodgers for the most career wins (11) by a Stanford golfer, McNealy often noted that he was unsure about one day becoming a tour pro. The Management Science and Engineering major has talked instead about following in the footsteps of his father, Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy, and going into the business world straight out of college.
Early in the year, McNealy noted that he would use the spring and summer of 2017 to sort things out. Part of his thought process was the desire to take advantage of exemptions into the U.S. and British Opens (he missed the cut at Erin Hills). Additionally, McNealy wanted to play for the U.S. in another Walker Cup, this time in the United States in September at Los Angeles Country Club (While the team hasn’t been named, McNealy is a virtual lock to make the squad.)
By waiting out the summer, McNealy has reduced the opportunity to earn PGA Tour or Web.com Tour status via sponsor’s exemptions for 2018. Still, he has a shot considering he already has spots lined up into the PGA Tour’s Safeway Open and Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Given his amateur resume, getting additional exemptions into PGA or Web.com events seems likely.