Maverick McNealy returns with rekindled joy for PGA Tour life
Posted on: 31 Oct, 2023 at 07:20 PM
Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Maverick McNealy is a Stanford graduate, and the 27-year-old used his business hat rather than his heart in patiently waiting to make his PGA Tour return.
McNealy is in this week's field at the World Wide Technologies Championship in Mexico, his first start since missing the cut at the RBC Canadian Open in June. No. 26 in the FedEx Cup standings at the time, McNealy decided it was time to address a shoulder injury that had been plaguing him for four months.
He considered returning at the Fortinet Championship in Napa, but wasn't physically ready. McNealy really wanted to play the Shriners Children's Open just 10 minutes from his home in Las Vegas, but that would have only provided him a minor medical extension to begin 2024.
Instead, McNealy circled this week's event in Cabo San Lucas. Now 121st in the standings, McNealy is battling for status on tour next year, but he will now be playing on a major medical extension that provides more events to retain his status.
"I don't know if my number's good enough to hold up and I don't want to leave it up to chance to maybe not be able to get all the events to start 2024," he said Tuesday. "It was a hard business decision to not play Shriners, but I knew that World Wide Technology was going to be an event I could play.
"I'll have probably around 11 events on this medical, so probably no more than 20 points needed over those 11 events. And I always play well in Mexico and I was really excited to get back out here. Feels like two events I can ease my way, get back in the routine, see where my body and my game are at and then hit the 2024 season running."
McNealy's 2023 season began to unravel with a "funny swing" following a long wait on the seventh tee at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. Ranked 60th in the Official World Golf Ranking at the time, McNealy would end up withdrawing from that event and the Waste Management Phoenix Open the following week.
He managed to make his next three cuts, but finished no better than a T36 at the Valspar. Six events and four missed cuts later while also sliding to 92nd in the OWGR, McNealy decided it was finally time to properly address the shoulder injury.
McNealy opted against surgery, choosing rather to focus on physical therapy along with a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection. He also made some alterations to his swing mechanics to alleviate stress on the area, where he said he tore the ligament that connects his collarbone to his sternum.
Now in his sixth season as a professional golfer, McNealy also used the time away from the course to get his pilot's license. He accomplished that goal, but also discovered that he truly missed life on the PGA Tour when it was taken away from him.
"I think being away from the tour has made me realize all the things I loved and missed about it," he said. "It's really easy to get caught up in the FedEx Cup rankings and try to make the playoffs, trying to hit a certain world ranking, working on your game, stressing about all these different things.
"At least for me, I kind of lost sight of the fact that it's just really, really cool to be on the PGA Tour and be a PGA Tour player. This is the greatest job on the planet."
McNealy said he has put flying on the backburner for now. It has been "all golf lately" as he has prepared for his return. It's that daily grind in quest of being in contention come Sunday that McNealy found he also missed.
"Sitting out for four months made me realize I missed the travel. Not that I love sitting in airport terminals for a layover, but I love seeing different parts of the world, the country, eating different foods, meeting different people, hanging out with 50 of the best golfers on the plant and playing practice rounds and $5 birdie games with those guys, testing myself, pushing myself," he said.
"I love being outside for six to eight hours a day. I love the fact that we get to walk 50 miles."
There are plenty of major accomplishments for McNealy to pursue in his still-young PGA Tour career. He's still chasing his first victory -- and his first ticket to play in The Masters. McNealy's has a pair of runner-up finishes on tour -- both coming in 2021 -- but he has only made one career cut in a major, finishing T75 at last year's PGA Championship.
McNealy is returning to the tour in a dogfight to retain his status in marquee events, but with a newfound perspective.
"This is what people do for recreation and we get to do it for a job," he said. "I'm really excited to hit golf shots that matter ... like really matter and really count, and test myself and play that way. It just putts things in perspective for me.
"It's so cliche, you don't realize what you have until you don't have it. You always think about it, your years on the PGA Tour are limited and how do I want to spend them. And I'm just going to love being here."
--Field Level Media