BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Kenneth McCready can’t stop smiling. After all, he’s advanced to the Round of 16 at the U.S. Mid-Amateur after defeating Stan Gann Jr., 3 and 1. But it isn’t just his play that has the San Diego native grinning this week at the Country Club of Birmingham. The fact that he can walk and play at all instead of being confined to a wheelchair or a rehabilitation center is enough to keep his spirits high.
In the past six years, McCready, 25, has undergone nine surgeries, including three on his right ankle, since he graduated from the University of San Diego in 2011. Last year, McCready was confined to a wheelchair following his third ankle surgery.
“It was kind of cool,” he said. “My mom had to push me around.”
McCready could certainly be described as injury-prone. He’s hurt himself falling down stairs. He blew out a shoulder throwing a football with friends. Even his parents told him he needed to confine himself to golf, because other sports were too dangerous.
“I have a degenerate disorder,” he said. “I break bones easy. I’m brittle.” When healthy, McCready had some success at San Diego under head coach Tim Mickelson. He only played full-time in four of his eight eligible semesters, but he did play in the NCAA Championship twice – in 2010 at The Honors Course in Ooltewah, Tenn., and 2011 at Karsten Creek in Stillwater, Okla. Two of his teammates, Gunnar Wiebe and Alex Ching, competed this past year on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica and are in Web.com Tour Qualifying School this fall.
McCready still has hopes of joining them on tour someday, but the surgeries have put his plans on hold.
Immediately after he graduated in 2011, McCready underwent his first of three ankle surgeries. He also had shoulder surgery. That alone derailed his plan to turn professional. While recovering, he worked briefly at his father’s insurance agency in Sacramento, Calif., but quickly tired of the 9-to-5 desk job.
“I couldn’t sit there for eight hours,” said McCready. “I couldn’t do that.”
After his last ankle surgery, he lived with his mom in Placerville, Calif., the small town near Lake Tahoe where he grew up.
But in January, McCready moved back to San Diego, taking a job in the pro shop at Riverwalk Golf Club, a municipal course.
“I take people’s money,” he said with a smile. “I sell merchandise. And once I’m done working, I get to play.”
He also joined San Diego Country Club, which was recently awarded the 2017 U.S. Women’s Amateur, as a junior executive member. And since turning 25 in March, he has focused on qualifying for the U.S. Mid-Amateur. McCready had previously qualified for the 2005 U.S. Junior Amateur and 2010 U.S. Amateur, but missed match play each time.
On Aug. 21, he went to La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad for his qualifier and shot a 73, which put him in a playoff for the last two spots. On the first extra hole, McCready drained a 50-foot birdie putt to earn his way to Alabama.
A day later, he re-worked his swing, going from a draw to a cut. He also cut back his hours at Riverwalk to prepare for the Mid-Amateur.
“This is a big deal,” he said. “I really dedicated myself to this tournament and it’s working.”
McCready easily qualified for match play with a 2-over 143 total and on Monday, he knocked off 2012 Mid-Amateur runner-up Garrett Rank, 3 and 2. In Tuesday morning’s victory in the Round of 32, McCready was 1 up going to the 16th hole. He proceeded to hit a low 2-iron approach to 3 feet for what became a conceded birdie. Then on 17, Gann missed the green with a punch approach from the right rough. When he missed a 5-foot bogey putt, he conceded the hole and match to McCready.
That brought another wide grin to McCready’s face.
“I haven’t stopped smiling since I made match play,” he said. “That was my goal. This is so much fun. And this place, you’ve got a clubhouse that is a castle. This place is amazing. I don’t want to leave.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.