Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - April 25, 2014

Cardinal men take their best shot at Pac-12 title

by Rick Eymer

Maverick McNealy has been playing his best golf the past three tournaments and he's only getting better.

The Stanford freshman, who grew up playing at Stanford Golf Course and Sharon Heights Country Club, is overshadowed by his better known teammates and that's just fine with.

Senior Cameron Wilson, who has shot even par or better in his past six rounds, and junior Patrick Rodgers, who has won more individual titles at Stanford than anyone not named Tiger Woods, will be playing on the professional circuit this time next year.

"I've learned so much from those guys," said McNealy, a Portola Valley resident who attended Harker School. "I had the privilege of playing 36 holes with them and it was fun for me to see how they prepared and practiced, how they thought about their shots and they understood course management."

The Cardinal has won four team titles, most recently at last week's Western Intercollegiate in Santa Cruz. Wilson, ranked second in the nation behind Rodgers, won the individual title by two strokes over Rodgers, who had won his previous three tournaments.

All three golfers are looking forward to the Pac-12 Championships, which begin Friday at Gallery Golf Club's North Course in Marana, Ariz., just northwest of Tucson.

"We expect to play well every time," Wilson said. "Guys are having fun and understand every tournament is important. Patrick is a team player and sets a good example of working hard on every aspect of the game. He's good for me and he's good for the younger guys."

Rodgers has played internationally, twice as a member of the United States team at the Palmer Cup, and is the top-ranked amateur in the world.

Rodgers has played in four PGA Tour events, including taking the lead at the John Deere Classic last year before finishing 15th.

He announced his intentions to turn pro early so that speculation would not become a distraction.

"We have an opportunity to do something special,'' Rodgers said in a statement. ''I want to put all of the focus on trying to win a national championship for the team.''

It's the same focus held by everyone on the roster, which also includes Menlo School grad Patrick Grimes, who shot a round of 4-under 68 in Hawaii in February, sophomore David Boote, who has a best round of 4-under 67 in Dallas last October and freshman Jim Liu, who has shot six rounds under 70, including a 5-under 65 at the Stanford Intercollegiate.

Senior Shane Lebow, sophomores Keegan English and Dominick Franks and freshman Viraat Badhwar fill the roster with solid players.

"Most of the year just qualifying for the team in a certain week was as competitive as the tournament," McNealy said. "We have a lot of guys who are competitive. If you play well, you make the team."

McNealy finished sixth at the Western Intercollegiate following a fourth-place finish at the Stanford Intercollegiate. He's shot under 70 in five of his last nine rounds, including a season-best 6-under 65 at The Prestige.

"He has excellent ball skills," Wilson said. "He's impressive and can compete on any given day. It just shows we have a good team and good depth."

Nationally No. 4-ranked California, No 14 UCLA, No. 11 Washington, No. 20 USC will test No. 3 Stanford at the Pac-12's, along with No. 25 Arizona State, No. 40 Oregon, No. 53 Colorado and host school Arizona, ranked 86th. Washington State and Utah complete the field.

The Cardinal hopes to compete for its first national title since 2007, a year in which Stanford finished fourth at Pac-12s and seventh at the NCAA regional before winning it all.

"It's a great test on a solid course against a great field," McNealy said. "We feel like we're good enough to win it."

Conrad Ray was Stanford's coach in 2007 and played on the Cardinal's 1994 NCAA championship team, which also featured current Oregon coach Casey Martin and pro Notah Begay III.

McNealy was destined for Stanford. His father, Scott, earned his MBA at Stanford. His mother, Susan, is a Stanford grad. He has aunts and uncles (Bob Randolph played soccer at Stanford) who attended Stanford. He was born at Stanford Hospital.

McNealy is also a three-time Stanford men's club champion, first winning at age 13.

"I know the place like the back of my hand," he said. "Now it's about getting it done and sending Cameron and Patrick off right."

The Stanford women also will be playing in their Pac-12 Championships this weekend in Corvallis, Ore. The 54-hole tourney runs Friday through Sunday.

The No. 10-ranked Cardinal is coming off a seventh-place finish at the PING/Arizona State Invitational. Swinging alongside seven of the country's top 10 programs among the 15-team field, the Cardinal shelved its 10th top-10 finish in as many events.

Four Cardinal finished in the top 50, led by 12th-place Casey Danielson (71-71-74). Lauren Kim (71-71-75) was one stroke behind Danielson to finish tied for 17th. Tied for 27th was Mariah Stackhouse, who went 77-70-72 for 3-over. Mariko Tumangan (76-73-75) tied for 47th.

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