Scotland's Syme Ousts Out-of-Sync McNealy
August 16, 2017 | Pacific Palisades, Calif.
By Ron Driscoll
The 16th hole provided a fitting denouement for Wednesday’s Round-of-64 match between Maverick McNealy and Connor Syme in the 117th U.S. Amateur Championship. All day at The Riviera Country Club, McNealy had struggled with in-between distances and long birdie putts, and as he stood on the tee of the 160-yard hole, he was again between clubs.
“It was either a soft 7[-iron], which if I caught it too good was going in the back bunker, or an 8, which, if I didn’t catch it perfect, it was coming up short,” said McNealy, the No. 2 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking™. “It was funny, just about every number today seemed like it was a dead tweener.”
McNealy hit a less-than-perfect 8-iron, and the ball buried in the front bunker. His second skittered over the green and into the back bunker, and he holed a long putt for bogey. A routine two-putt par gave Syme a 2-up lead, and when Syme rolled in a 15-footer for birdie on the next hole, the par-5 17th, the 22-year-old Scotsman had earned his spot in the Round of 32.
“I definitely had a chance, but he played very solid golf, to his credit,” said McNealy, of Portola Valley, Calif. “He didn’t make many mistakes at all.”
Not only did Syme not make many mistakes, he seized control of the match with a conceded eagle on No. 10 and a two-putt birdie on the par-5 11th, which put him 3 up. The No. 13 player in the world slipped up a bit with back-to-back bogeys on holes 13 and 14, but regained the momentum with solid pars on the next two holes. The birdie on the par-5 17th that closed out McNealy, 2 and 1, left Syme at 2 under for the day, while McNealy ended the day at 1 over par, with his only birdie of the day topped by Syme’s on the final hole.
“Just made a lot of pars, no birdies except for the last hole,” said McNealy, who graduated from Stanford in May. “For whatever reason, I never really got anything going. I had putts that looked good but just didn’t quite get in. I had a lot of in-between numbers and hit too many shots to like 40, 50 feet and was playing defensive on the greens.”
Both players are hopeful of being back in the area in two weeks’ time, competing in the 46th Walker Cup Match for their respective countries at The Los Angeles Country Club. McNealy was part of the USA side that fell to Great Britain & Ireland in 2015 at Royal Lytham & St Annes, and he couldn’t deny his incentive to get another crack at winning the Walker Cup. The USA side will be announced over the weekend.
“I’ve wanted to hold that Walker Cup trophy since we got smoked two years ago,” said McNealy, 21. “That’s been priority No. 1 for me these last two years, trying to make this Walker Cup Team and win one for Captain Spider [Miller].”
Syme competed in The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale last month, where he missed the cut. The winner of last year’s Australian Amateur realized the significance of his victory.
“He’s been right at the top of the rankings for the last three, four years probably,” said Syme, a member of the Scottish National Team, of McNealy. “Obviously got massive respect for his game, and as a person he’s such a nice guy. I played very, very solid and tried not to give him much. I always thought was going to come back at me, which he did.”
McNealy tried to do his part, but wasn’t up to the task on this day.
“On No. 12, my caddie, Travis, told me, ‘You’re going to have to earn two [holes] and he might give you one,’” said McNealy. “He ended up kind of giving me two. I just didn’t earn the… I didn’t make the birdie or two that I needed, and so at the end of the day that's on me. I’m leaving here with a little bitter taste in my mouth. I could have done a lot better than I did.”
Now he waits and hopes for the chance in two weeks to complete his two-year quest.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.