ORLANDO, Fla. – Golf was Plan A for Jeff McNeil, a two-time Major League Baseball All-Star who teed it up in his first Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions celebrity event this week. That is, until he had a bad second round in the 2009 U.S. Junior at Trump National in Bedminster, New Jersey, won by Jordan Spieth. Several weeks later McNeil was back on the baseball field, playing his first year of high school ball as a senior, ultimately landing a scholarship to Long Beach State.
The shift in plans worked out well for McNeil, a second baseman for the New York Mets. The man nicknamed the “Flying Squirrel” for the way he dove after balls in the outfield now gets the best of both worlds, hoisting a trophy on, of all things, National Squirrel Appreciation Day.
“I didn’t get to play a lot of golf this offseason,” said McNeil, “so tried to do the best I could and ended up working out.”
For a while, it looked like McNeil might have to work a little harder for the victory after the leaderboard had him tied with Mark Mulder at 138 points in the Modified Stableford format. It turns out, however, that Mulder’s scorer put him down for a birdie on the seventh hole when he actually made double-bogey. Mulder said he tried to correct the scoring error on the golf course.
The points change dropped Mulder into a share of third and brought Lake Nona resident Annika Sorenstam into second. McNeil finished alone at the top at 138 after carding a 1-over 73 on a frigid day in central Florida, relieved to not have to go back to the 18th tee.
“I think I’ve been in one playoff in my life,” he said. “I think in junior golf when I was like 17. Ended up losing, so that’s the only memory I have from that.
“Definitely didn’t want to go to a playoff.”
Sorenstam got off to a flying start and lead the field early in the week but went home frustrated that she couldn’t keep the momentum going. The LPGA Hall of Famer said she’s unsure of what the rest of her competitive schedule will look like this year.
“I was super excited after Round 1,” said Sorenstam. “I felt like I hit some good shots. It was like old times. It was fun, had a good time.
“Then the last three rounds I’ve been struggling quite a bit and don’t feel so excited as I did after number one. But you know what? I got to take the positives out of it. I thought I really scrambled well. Some of the shots I hit were really crazy. Made some incredible up and downs. … I know I’m super close.”