NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
Maverick McNealy sounds like a normal college student trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life.
He just happens to be the top-ranked amateur golfer in the world.
“I’ve been really blessed at Stanford to have two very awesome opportunities,” said McNealy, who just finished his junior season with the Cardinal. “I have a chance to get a world-class education and a chance to play for one of the best golf teams in the country. To be honest, I don’t know what I want to do come next year.”
It would be easy enough for a player of McNealy’s stature to go the conventional route, turning pro sometime soon and embarking on a career that could lead to fame, fortune and golfing greatness. McNealy, however, insists the decision isn’t so simple, not for someone with so many interests outside the game. Next month, McNealy will play in the U.S. Amateur, won in the past by the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, but his career path could end up a lot different from theirs.
“I don’t know if one of my best friends from school is going to have a really cool idea that’s something really interesting and a lot of possibility for social good, and I want to join that company after school, or what other job opportunities will be there,” McNealy said recently on a teleconference to promote the U.S. Amateur. “I think now is a little bit too early, in light of all that, to make a decision.”
McNealy is studying management science and engineering, with a concentration in finance and decision analysis. He says his studies involve math, economics and computer science.
“My major is basically giving me a bunch of tools from a bunch of different backgrounds to make effective decisions,” he said. “To be honest, I’m kind of glad — one of the big decisions of what I’m going to do with my life coming up, it’s coming in useful.”
For now, McNealy has a clever line he can use when asked about his future aspirations.
“If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if or when I was going to turn pro, I wouldn’t have to turn pro,” he said.
If McNealy does devote himself to professional golf, his potential is impressive. The two-time All-American is No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and was a member of the U.S. Walker Cup team last year. He made it to the round of 16 in last year’s U.S. Amateur, and he’ll have a chance to improve on that at this year’s event at Oakland Hills in Michigan.
McNealy is second on Stanford’s career list with 10 victories, one behind the record held by Woods and Patrick Rodgers.
“He came in as a freshman, super athletic, and that allowed him to I think make some huge strides ball striking,” said Conrad Ray, his coach at Stanford. “I think he’s turned his putting into a strength, and now I think it’s a matter of continuing, all levels rising.”
McNealy’s hesitance to commit to a pro golf career shouldn’t be interpreted as a lack of dedication or competitiveness.
“I think he’s just an analytical kid. For me, I’ve actually tried to balance that. I just want him to have as much fun as he can, meet as many people, really enjoy the game for the relationships and all that,” Ray said. “Rarely is a coach telling a guy to go to the movies and get a pizza, but for me, he’s probably the type of player that I would encourage that, just because he’s hard-wired to be really analytical and super focused and super hard-working.”
Ray says McNealy gets his enjoyment of the game from the preparation and the constant chance to improve. That’s an attitude that could serve him well as a professional, but right now, he’s in no rush to play golf for big money. McNealy expects to make a decision on his future before this coming spring season.
“At this point, I’m just going to be working on getting my degree, learning things that I feel like will be valuable,” McNealy said. “I’m really fortunate to have great opportunities.”
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