McNealy Drained After Rough-and-Tumble Win
August 19, 2015 | Olympia Fields, Ill.
By Stuart Hall
Maverick McNealy looked no worse for wear, but he fully acknowledged having been in a bare-knuckled scrap.
“It was a bloody match,” said McNealy, 19, of his 1-up victory over Austin Connelly, 19, of Canada, in the 115th U.S. Amateur Championship’s opening round of match play on Wednesday.
The give-and-take battle featured seven halved holes, including the final three that preserved McNealy’s win.
McNealy built a 4-up lead through seven holes on Olympia Fields Country Club’s 7,110-yard North Course. But starting at the 454-yard, par-4 eighth hole, Connelly won five of the next six holes, four with birdies, to take a 1-up lead.
“I was like, how did that happen,” said McNealy, of Portola Valley, Calif., who is No. 2 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™. “That got my heart rate up, and it was a lot of fun.”
Connelly, No. 18 in the WAGR, had gotten McNealy’s undivided attention.
“I was blown away by Austin Connelly’s game and that doesn’t happen that often,” said McNealy, a rising senior at Stanford University and the reigning college player of the year. “He doesn’t hit it very far off the tee, but his game, playing a course like this that really rewards length, I was really impressed. The number of long irons he hit inside 10 feet was unbelievable.”
While McNealy was rebounding to win the par-4 13th and 14th holes to take the final lead of the match, Connelly was struggling with the increasing winds sweeping the course.
“The rest of the day, every single hole, I was in between clubs,” said Connelly. ”These last few holes you have to be fully committed, especially into the wind like we were today.”
As the iconic Olympia Fields clubhouse clock tower sounded 4 p.m., McNealy was ready to rest after what has been a whirlwind six days.
On Friday, McNealy won the Northern California Golf Association’s 112th Amateur Match Play Championship at Spyglass Hill Golf Course in Pebble Beach, Calif. The celebration was brief as McNealy was up at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday to fly to Chicago.
He arrived at Olympia Fields around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday and played two practice holes on the North Course before thunderstorms halted play. After attending a players’ reception Saturday evening, he returned on Sunday morning to play a practice round on the South Course.
On Monday, McNealy teed off at 8:40 a.m. in the first round of stroke play, shot 2-over-par 72, then practiced afterward, admitting that he was exhausted. He teed off late Tuesday afternoon in the second round and played 16 holes before play was suspended due to darkness.
“I had to sleep on the cutline, knowing I had two tough holes to come back to play and there was the possibility of a playoff,” said McNealy, who rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt on his first hole Wednesday morning, his 35th, to finish off an even-par round and post a 2-over 142 that earned him the No. 39 seed. “I think I would have been a different player if I had to go through a three- or four-hole playoff.
“So this evening is going to be huge for me to hit the reset button and come out tomorrow fresh and ready to go.”
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.