People often ask when I'm turning pro.
It's not when. It's if.
Maverick McNealy. Photo by John Todd/isiphotos.com
What I am sure of is that I could not be more excited to return for my senior year at Stanford. This decision couldn't be easier for me to make, despite many top collegiate golfers turning professional early.
I truly believe that Stanford is the best place to improve my game and receive a world-class education. I love being a Stanford student-athlete, and I want our team to win a national championship. I would never trade that experience for an extra year of professional golf.
If you asked my younger self what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wouldn't have said PGA Tour pro, NHL player or even CEO. I would have said "Stanford golfer."
I grew up on the Stanford Golf Course and remember tracking Stanford's 2007 NCAA championship title run like it was yesterday. I used Rob Grube's old name-embroidered, faded-red Stanford golf bag for two years, despite being called his name more than mine at tournaments. And I still have the first Stanford hat I ever got from golf camp (albeit, no longer Cardinal red).
My head coach, Conrad Ray, says that being a part of the Stanford golf program is like a slow-moving train. You get on for four years, then you get off; you have only that time to make your mark.
I first stepped on campus as a quiet, 155-pound, 17-year-old hockey player with bad tan lines and a burning desire to get better. Coach Ray took a huge chance on me. I was an unranked, unknown junior golfer, was "recruited" by only one other school, and was the last addition to the top-ranked recruiting class in the country. I was joining the team's stacked top five of Patrick Rodgers, Cameron Wilson, David Boote, Viraat Badhwar and Jim Liu, all of whom had impressive golf pedigrees.
I could not have been more excited to be a Cardinal. That Block S logo was sacred. My future teammates told me not to buy any Stanford clothing because I was going to get more gear than I knew what to do with at Nike Christmas, our term for the preseason distribution of Nike gear and apparel.
I've never folded anything as nicely as I folded my practice shirts. I scrubbed my golf shoes until they were spotless. My red Stanford backpack was one of my most prized possessions.
Not much has changed.
Neither has the motivation that drives me: getting better.
I had the most perfect environment to improve during my freshman season at Stanford -- everybody on the team did something better than me. I thought that if I could learn from them, I would improve. I was that freshman who shamelessly watched and emulated everything the upperclassmen did. I wanted trajectory control like Rodgers; I wanted my contact to be as flush as Wilson's; and I wanted to chip like Boote and putt like Badhwar.
I had access to the best practice facilities in the country, the best coaching staff, and the two best players in college golf to learn from. My teammates could not have been more encouraging, supportive and helpful. I didn't think I would crack the starting lineup, and I didn't think I would be the team's best player.
But what I wanted more than anything was to be the team's hardest worker and to get better.
Nobody comes to Stanford to be mediocre.
I am returning to Stanford to finish my degree and take advantage of the unique educational opportunity that is Stanford. I have thoroughly enjoyed working through my management science and engineering major. The decision analysis track, which combines math, statistics, economics, finance, computer science, and probability, not only encompasses my interests, but also arms me with powerful tools for making future decisions.
Whether or not I play professional golf is one of these.
Regardless what I decide, my Stanford diploma will be put to good use and treasured.
But if there was just one reason for me to return to Stanford, it would be to be a part of something far greater than just a school: my team. They inspire me, they push me, and they make my Stanford experience unlike any other.
To name just a few examples: my roommate, Viraat, is one of the most resilient people I know; it was awesome to see Frank "The Tank" Huang's first individual win last spring; Jeff Swegle redefines what it means to be meticulous in school and sport; and I'm extremely excited to play one year with my younger brother, Dakota.
I doubt I will ever be a part of such a close-knit, motivated, outstanding group of individuals bonded by shared experience and ambition. Some of my best memories from school will be the team travel, practice rounds, and van rides, but nothing compares to the feeling of winning championships with your teammates.
Beyond my team, I take enormous pride in being a Stanford student-athlete, and this is simply due to the more than 900 exceptional individuals that comprise this group.
Where to start?
Witnessing the women's golf team's epic comeback for its first national championship; the dominance of women's water polo; Jordan Morris and the incredible national title run by men's soccer last fall; football's Rose Bowl win and Christian McCaffrey's record-breaking season; yelling at the television while watching swimmers Katie Ledecky, Lia Neal, Simone Manuel and Maya DiRado dominate at the Olympics ... and the list goes on.
These student-athletes are special.
Walking into the weight room and training next to Olympians, national champions, and other world-class athletes pushes me to work harder.
I am inspired by the way they train.
I am amazed by their academic and extracurricular endeavors.
I admire the humble and grounded ways in which they do so.
I am truly honored to be associated with this group that I admire, emulate, and cheer for.
Last, but not least, the reason I am coming back is to have one last shot at a national championship and a fourth consecutive Pac-12 Conference title. Both winning and losing motivate us -- coming so close in the semifinals of NCAA Championships two years ago makes me want nothing more than to have another shot, and the past three Pac-12 titles make us want the next one even more. It's no secret that our team -- and every team at Stanford -- goes into every year with the goal of winning championships.
The quest for our program's ninth NCAA crown, the process of getting better, and the team and school I play for are why I am proud and excited to return to Stanford -- the Home of Champions and Nerd Nation -- for one more year.