Maverick McNealy, Charlie Reiter thrive in familiar setting


LA QUINTA, Calif. – After a mammoth drive that left him just a 6-iron in on the 572-yard par-5 16th hole at PGA West’s Nicklaus Tournament Course, 18-year-old Charlie Reiter took on the water and safely hit the island green, leaving himself 20 feet or so for eagle. After a two-putt birdie, Reiter walked to the next tee box amid lots of applause.

Kind of like nine years ago.

Reiter, a senior at nearby Palm Desert High School, played the Nicklaus Tournament Course in the 2009 Golf Channel Amateur Tour National Championship at just 10 years old. He entered the same hole two shots back. But a birdie-par-par finish left him with a three-shot victory in his flight.

“He got to 16 and the cameras showed up,” said Reiter’s mom, Susan Conti. “… That’s when I knew he could win.”

Said Reiter back then: “I liked that because I’m good under pressure.”

Not much has changed. Reiter is making his PGA Tour debut this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge and has already impressed his hometown fans. Already known for his prodigious length with a max ball speed just south of 190 mph, Reiter has shown an ability beyond the tee box, shooting 68-70 and sitting T-67 entering Saturday’s third round on PGA West’s Stadium Course.

Charlie Reiter and his caddie, Dave Stockton Jr. (Getty Images)

He got his score to 8 under after four birdies in his first eight holes Friday on the Nicklaus, and if it weren’t for one bad bounce off the tee that led to double bogey on the par-4 fifth hole, Reiter’s 14th of the day, he would’ve found himself inside the cutline entering the third round. (The top 60 and ties make the 54-hole cut.)

Not that Reiter cares. He has no goals this week – well, except to have fun.

“I’ve been coming here watching this tournament since I can remember, me and my dad, and now getting the chance to play out here is definitely a dream come true for me,” Reiter said.

Reiter wasn’t the only player in his group, though, with familiarity on the Nicklaus and at PGA West.

First-year pro Maverick McNealy won The Prestige at PGA West in 2015, one of his 11 victories in four years at Stanford. (The tournament is normally played on PGA West’s Norman Course, but that year, according to McNealy, the course staff sprayed herbicides instead of pesticides on the greens and killed them.)

McNealy beat Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele, among others, that week, which he capped with a final-round 64. Three years later, McNealy is beating all but 18 pros; he is T-19 after a 4-under 68 Friday on the Nicklaus. (Even his bogey was impressive, as he nearly holed his third shot from the drop area after hitting his tee ball in the water at the par-3 eighth.)

“A really good comfort level out here,” McNealy said. “It’s playing pretty similar to what it did then. I play this golf course really well; it fits my eye. … There were actually I’d say two-thirds of the pins (Friday) we saw during The Prestige.”

While Reiter is only playing for fun this week, McNealy knows how important each start he gets on the PGA Tour is. He earned his Web.com Tour card through the final stage of Q-School last December, but should he play well on the big tour, he could accelerate his path to the big leagues via special temporary membership, which entails unlimited sponsor exemptions.

He has work to do, though, as he’s only earned $14,756 in two Tour starts this season. (McNealy, now a Las Vegas resident, is slated to play the Farmers and AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on sponsor exemptions, and will try to Monday-qualify for Phoenix.)

McNealy’s key to success on Tour may sound cliché, but he really is taking things shot by shot. In fact, McNealy uses a tool from Scott Fawcett’s DECADE system of course preparation and strategy to “make every shot count.” For each hole he plays during a round, McNealy gives himself either a ‘1’ or a ‘0.’ A ‘1’ means McNealy was consistent with his process, consistent with his routine and was fully focused with no distractions over the shot. A ‘0’ means he wasn’t fully committed to the shot.

On Friday, McNealy had his best performance yet.

“I gave myself one ‘0,’” McNealy said.

As for Reiter, this week is already a ‘1’ – one to remember.

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