Pilot? Engaged? Maverick McNealy kept busy during long layoff and is ready to go at WWT Championship

LOS CABOS, Mexico – For Maverick McNealy, absence made the heart grow fonder.

The 27-year-old Stanford grad is making his return to the PGA Tour on Thursday at the World Wide Technology Championship after being sidelined for nearly five months with a left shoulder injury.

“I know it’s a cliché,” he said. “I have the coolest job in the world and I realized that when I wasn’t able to play here. It’s really easy to lose sight of that when you get wrapped up in the FedEx Cup and the world rankings and all this other stuff.”

McNealy tore the anterior sterno-clavicular ligament in his left shoulder during the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am in February. During the second round, while playing the seventh hole at Monterey Peninsula Club’s Shore Course, he remembers a long wait in cold weather and then making a “funny swing,” in which his swing got too steep, leading to being stuck underneath and having to shallow late to get his shoulder back in position.

“Doing that repeatedly while slamming a metal rod in the ground wasn’t really good for my body,” he said.

He ranked 26th in the FedEx Cup standings when he injured himself. He tried rest and to play on for a few months before shutting it down in June after missing the cut at the RBC Canadian Open. Surgery wasn’t necessary.

“The doctors said that would have been like hanging a wall picture frame with a sledgehammer,” he said.

2023 AT&T Byron Nelson at TPC Craig Ranch
2023 AT&T Byron Nelson at TPC Craig Ranch

Maverick McNealy plays an approach shot on the ninth hole during the first round of the 2023 AT&T Byron Nelson at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas. (Photo: Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

The recovery process consisted of physical therapy and regenerative stem-cell treatment, which accelerated the healing process. Three days after the treatment, he had a golf club in his hand, beginning with a pitch count of 15 balls swinging from hip to hip and slowly worked back up to a full volume of practice and play about a month ago.

McNealy also made changes to his swing mechanics to make sure he doesn’t put as much stress on the joint in his shoulder. McNealy worked on trying to be “less steep to shallow” with his golf swing and staying behind the ball. With his instructor Butch Harmon no longer traveling to Tour events, McNealy sought a second set of eyes when he’s on the road and began working with instructor Scott Hamilton at the Valspar Championship.

“It’s more of a complementary relationship than a replacement,” he said.

McNealy took a break from Harmon during last year’s off-season and tried to recapture some old swing thoughts. That’s when his swing went off-kilter and led to the injury.

During his downtime, McNealy earned his pilot’s license and his instrument rating so he can fly in adverse conditions. He said he flies in a Cirrus SR20 and plans to pilot it to some West Coast events next season. He also got engaged, flying girlfriend Maya Daniels to Lake Tahoe earlier this summer, where he proposed.

McNealy, who previously dated LPGA star Danielle Kang, met Daniels three years ago at his workout and physical therapy center. They started dating about 11 months ago and it hasn’t hurt that she helped him with his rehab.

“When your fiancee works in the physical therapy world it’s always a plus when you’re a professional athlete,” he said.

McNealy was ready to return to the Tour at the Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas, where he lives and practices regularly, but that event was the cut-off point between a major and minor medical extension. (By waiting until this week, McNealy should have 11 events to keep his card.)

“I’m 121st in the FedEx Cup right now. I don’t know if my number’s good enough to hold up and I don’t want to leave it up to chance to maybe not be able to get all the events to start 2024,” he explained.

So, McNealy is ready to get back to work at the Tiger Woods-designed El Cardonal at Diamante south of the border.

“Love the food. I joke that I eat Chipotle half the time when I’m on the road,” McNealy said, “so this is just a more authentic version.”

Diamante Cabo San Lucas
Diamante Cabo San Lucas

Diamante Cabo San Lucas

The 15-hole putting course at Diamante Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.

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Diamante Cabo San Lucas
Diamante Cabo San Lucas

Diamante Cabo San Lucas

The 15-hole putting course at Diamante Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.

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Diamante Cabo San Lucas
Diamante Cabo San Lucas

Diamante Cabo San Lucas

The 15-hole putting course at Diamante Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.

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Diamante Cabo San Lucas
Diamante Cabo San Lucas

Diamante Cabo San Lucas

The 15-hole putting course at Diamante Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.

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Diamante Cabo San Lucas
Diamante Cabo San Lucas

Diamante Cabo San Lucas

The 15-hole putting course at Diamante Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.

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Diamante Cabo San Lucas
Diamante Cabo San Lucas

Diamante Cabo San Lucas

The 15-hole putting course at Diamante Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.

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Diamante Cabo San Lucas
Diamante Cabo San Lucas

Diamante Cabo San Lucas

The 15-hole putting course at Diamante Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.

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Diamante Cabo San Lucas
Diamante Cabo San Lucas

Diamante Cabo San Lucas

The 15-hole putting course at Diamante Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.

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Diamante Cabo San Lucas
Diamante Cabo San Lucas

Diamante Cabo San Lucas

The 15-hole putting course at Diamante Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.

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Story originally appeared on GolfWeek