This article originally appeared in the summer 2016 Harker Quarterly.
After another stellar season, the Harker boys golf program has proven itself as one of the best in the state. The team won its third consecutive league title, while going undefeated in league for the second year in a row, winning each league match by an average of 27 strokes and stretching its league winning streak to 22 matches. It placed second in CCS, third in NorCals and sixth in state, further cementing its position as a force to be reckoned with. Since her first year as head coach in 2011, Ie-Chen Cheng has seen the team steadily improve to the point where one of the most difficult parts of her job is deciding on a lineup. “This year, we have not fielded the same lineup once,” said Cheng. “We go 10-11 [golfers] deep. And it’s a very nice luxury to have.” In fact, eight different golfers led the team in scoring this season.
What’s more, the team has proven its prowess against some formidable opponents. “To keep everyone sharp with such a deep squad, we purposely scheduled a very tough season,” stated Cheng. “We play the best competition.” Early season success against this top competition gave the Eagles a confidence that they rode all the way to the state finals. “Our very first tournament was the Joe Gambetta Tournament at Lone Tree Golf Course in Antioch,” said Victor Shin, grade 10. “There, we had a nice fourth place finish, which really boosted our confidence, but showed us that we still had a long way to go.”
The team’s success continued as it finished third at the Marin Catholic Wildcat Invitational, where it beat many of the best teams in the Bay Area. “With the added confidence, we just kept moving forward,” stated Avi Khemani, grade 11. “We had our best finish ever at the Champions’ Invitational in Palm Springs, finishing sixth out of over 40 teams nationally.” Khemani led the Eagles in Palm Springs, tying for 17th out of 250 individual golfers. Sprinkled around these tournaments was a dominating undefeated league season that was a testament to the team’s devotion, passion and work ethic. “The amount of dedication and commitment that each of the players put into this game really defines this team and makes it this good,” stated Shin. “With everyone putting many hours into golfing and wanting to improve every day,” added Khemani, “we’ve become a team that has a great chance to win every tournament that we play.”
Although team members have their eyes on a state title, they also strive to be their best in the classroom. “After seeing the success of Maverick [McNealy ’13, Stanford University] and Shrish [Dwivedi ’15, Duke University] at an elite level, the boys had great role models and want to follow in their paths of success on and off the course,” explained Cheng. “Going to a great university which offers both excellent academics and a golf program is important to them.” Continuing on this path is the lone varsity senior Dakota McNealy, who will play golf with his brother at Stanford in the coming year.
The boys ended the year by facing the best competition in California at the state finals. Although they fell short of their ultimate goal, what they took from their time at state will only serve to help this talented group in the future. “We learned how to play in this type of environment,” said Sandip Nirmel, grade 11, “so next year we will have the experience to play even better.” Looking ahead to next year, the Eagles have reason to be very optimistic. “I think we have a good shot at making it to the state championship again next year, but nothing is guaranteed,” said WBAL Golfer of the Year Ryan Vaughan, grade 11. “We have to keep working and playing our game.”
Losing just one senior and returning all six golfers who competed at the state finals, as well as promoting some of the talented JV players and middle schoolers, the Harker golf team looks like it will continue to be among the best in the West for years to come.
McNealys Make Golf a Family Affair
Some of the success of Harker’s upper school golf program over the past few years can be credited to the talents of one family. Since 2009 the McNealy brothers – Maverick ’13, Dakota, grade 12, Colt, grade 11, and Scout, grade 9 – have helped the program become a powerhouse. When Maverick and Dakota were very young, their parents decided to choose a family sport that they could play with their children, and golf seemed like a natural fit. “We almost spend more time together on the golf course than off of the golf course,” stated Scout. All that time on the course was not only great for family bonding, but also developing the talents of the four boys.
With three McNealys on this year’s varsity boys golf team, the brothers are spending even more time together, and enjoying every day on the course.
“It’s definitely fun,” said Dakota. “Luckily, we are all mature enough now that we aren’t excessively competitive, so we aren’t a distraction to each other.”
The McNealys show this maturity, as well as their skill, in their scores. At a tournament earlier this year, “Scout led the field in par-3 scoring average, I led the field in par-4 scoring average and Dakota led the field in par-5 scoring average,” recalled Colt.
At this year’s CCS regionals, Scout tied with teammate Avi Khemani, grade 11, for the team lead and a fifth place finish. In the CCS finals, Dakota led the team with a fifth place finish. All three McNealy brothers helped advance this team further than any golf team in Harker history.
“What impresses me the most is how much they are each other’s biggest fans even during times when they are competing against each other,” stated Harker’s golf coach, Ie-Chen Cheng. “They don’t get jealous of each other’s accomplishments but rather utilize it to get better.”
When an entire family plays the same sport, the natural question becomes, “Who is the best?” Even though older brother Maverick is one of the best college golfers in the nation, Colt says the best McNealy golfer is their mom. “She could probably win a few LPGA major championships if she wanted to chase that career.” In the fall, Dakota will join Maverick at Stanford, but Colt and Scout still have time to help the Harker golf program reach its ultimate goal of a state title.