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College Golf Talk podcast: How Maverick McNealy became Stanford star and now breakout pro

In this week’s episode of College Golf Talk, Steve Burkowski and Brentley Romine ring in the spring season in a big way by welcoming former Stanford great Maverick McNealy on the podcast to chat about his college career, his rising stock on the PGA Tour and how he’s constantly trying to improve and be the best player he can be.

The origin story of McNealy is well-known – a former hockey player who was lightly recruited and ended up playing for his dream school, Stanford, just 10 minutes from his childhood home in Portola Valley, California.

“It was always just a dream of mine to be on that Stanford golf team,” McNealy said. “I’d see that wall with all the team members up there, and it was a pretty cool day when I finally got my picture up on that wall, one that I’d walked by a million times in the clubhouse. ... I felt like the luckiest kid out there.

“Had no expectations when I started out. I was completely unranked, and I think nobody even knew who I was.”

After surprising as a freshman, McNealy broke out majorly his sophomore year by winning six times and capturing the Haskins Award as college golf’s player of the year. He went on to win 11 individual titles for the Cardinal, tying Tiger Woods and Patrick Rodgers for the program record.

McNealy recalled that sophomore season when Woods came to visit campus for three days.

“He didn’t do anything drastically different than what I was doing at that time; he just did it better,” McNealy said, “and he was doing what he was doing better than anybody else. He worked harder, he was more focused, more efficient and got more out of what he was doing.”

So, that’s why when McNealy returned to Stanford earlier this week before teeing it up at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he told the current crop of Cardinal: “Nobody goes to Stanford to be mediocre, so when you show up, you want to work and you want to do the best.”

“I really, really wanted to win a national championship with the team when I was there, and we didn’t; they won after I was gone,” McNealy added. “I said, just make sure that for the four years that you’re there, that you give it everything you have because if you don’t, you’re going to regret it.”

That’s why McNealy does everything full bore, just like his dad, Scott, a titan of industry in Silicon Valley, who once told his oldest of four sons, “Don’t chase your passions, chase what you’re really good at. Figure out something you’re good at and try and be the best at it, and work your tail off at that.”

Now 26 years old, McNealy has continued to heed his father’s advice. Through senior-year struggles, his long back-and-forth with whether to turn pro or not, a couple of seasons on the Korn Ferry Tour and now a PGA Tour member closing in on the top 50 in the world rankings.

“The true measure of how badly you want something is what you’re willing to sacrifice for it, and I was willing to sacrifice late nights hanging out with buddies and going to parties and drinking and all that for trying to be the best student and athlete that I could be,” McNealy said. “And I took pride in going to bed early, I took pride in being the first guy on my floor to go to sleep and the first guy awake. I loved being out at the practice facility at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning knowing that most people across all of college golf weren’t getting better at that time and I was.”

Years later, he’s still very much a morning person with an appetite for being the best. Of course, he still needs to win as a professional.

“I haven’t won a golf tournament since 2016. Crazy,” McNealy said. “I’ve gotten really close a lot of times, but it feels like I’ve had a four-year-long freshman year on the PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour.”

That breakthrough is coming, though, he senses.

“2015 was one of the most ridiculous heaters of my life,” McNealy said. “I won seven out of 12 events. That was a pretty cool year for me. I’m starting to get a lot of those same feelings right now that I had end of freshman, early sophomore year where I’m focused, I’m driven, I’m excited and I feel really good about my golf game and the improvements I’ve made, and results are always the last thing to catch up.

“So, I’m just going to keep going and really excited to see what the next couple of years have in store.”

In this episode, McNealy also discusses:

• The two biggest things he’s learned from his father, who went from working 14-hour days at a plastic manufacturing plant in Indiana to co-founding Sun Microsystems and becoming a billionaire.

• How he overcame some “full-swing demons” and not being able to finish nine holes with a dozen golf balls in late 2018

• The one-unit Excel class that made him a better professional

• How writing down 60,000 words of notes last year set the table for a potential breakout year in 2022

• Why he’d rather be the worst player on the best team than the best player on the worst team

• How much money he’s raised for Curriki, an online education service that is dedicated to making interactive learning experiences accessible for everyone

• How he defines success

• And why you may want to pick him this week at Pebble Beach, where he lost by just two shots last year

“For me, getting up and trying to get the absolute best out of myself everyday, and improving, and coming back to a tournament like this and thinking, I finished second last year, but I like my skillset even better right now than I did at this time last year, that’s the stuff that gets me out of bed at 5 in the morning and I’m really excited to get after my day,” McNealy said.

He later continued: “Last year at this tournament was a really big inflection point now that I look back a year later. Getting so close to winning, and I would’ve traded anything to have been two shots better to win this golf tournament last year, and then to go to Florida and I had a disastrous Florida swing, and that’s when I decided that there is not much in my life right now that is more important than me putting my best foot forward every single week I play and compete. That’s kind of when I really became a morning person. I took three weeks off after Florida, made a lot of really positive life habits, and I’ve earned that confidence by the work I’ve put in.

“I can confidently say this [past] year I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked in my entire life, which is a big statement.”