By now, Maverick McNealy's lineage is well known: his father, Scott, is the billionaire co-founder of Sun Microsystems. What most folks don't know is that growing up in the family mansion, Maverick had to share a bedroom with his three younger brothers, Dakota, Colt and Scout. (Their grandfather was the vice chairman of American Motors, and all four boys are named after cars.)
"There were a lot of body noises," Maverick says with a laugh. "You know, my entire life, I'd say, 'Dad, I want my own room. Dad, I need my own room, there's no privacy.' But now I wouldn't have traded one night. My three brothers and I are so close. We're best friends."
And they help keep each other in line. When Scout, a junior in high school being heavily recruited by college programs, came home one day in skinny jeans, he was teased so mercilessly that the fashion-forward denim was never seen again. "Not in our family," Maverick says. "Hats forward. No piercings, no tattoos. That's the rule."
As a star athlete and the product of privilege, Maverick could easily be insufferable, but his family's old-school sensibilities have left him with a refreshing perspective. "My dad always tells us, 'To whom much is given, much is expected,'" he says.
Maverick matriculated to Stanford largely for the education — he planned to pursue business opportunities after college. His trajectory changed with one e-mail during his freshman year. After being paired with his star teammate Patrick Rodgers for 36 holes, McNealy asked Rodgers for a few thoughts on how he could improve. "I woke up to a three-page e-mail in my inbox," he says.
He applied that blueprint in his sophomore year, winning seven tournaments, shooting a 61 at the Pac-12s to tie Tiger Woods's conference record, and taking the Haskins Award as college player of the year. Still, it wasn't until midway through his senior year that McNealy declined various Silicon Valley possibilities and heeded the siren song of the Tour, what he calls "the coolest office in the world."
I caught up with him in November in his newly adopted hometown of Las Vegas, where the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open was the second of seven sponsor's exemptions he's using to try to secure playing status. (He is fully exempt for the first 12 events on the 2018 Web.com schedule by virtue of finishing tied for 10th at the tour's qualifying tournament.) The 22-year-old did not try to hide the awe he felt at his surroundings, saying, "It's funny, I still feel like a golf fan. I've watched a ton of Golf Channel, and it's fun to be on the driving range that I spent a lot of breakfasts watching."
McNealy is so slender and baby-faced he could pass for a teenager, but he peppers his conversations with expressions like "taking ownership." After touring a Shriners hospital in Vegas, he pledged $250 for every birdie and $500 for every eagle during the tournament. He's already dreaming of enough Tour success to fund his own charitable foundation. "Playing for something bigger than yourself is incredibly motivating," he says.
McNealy missed the cut in Vegas, making only $1,750 worth of birdies. Despite his slight build, he has plenty of pop, which he partly credits to the core strength and rotational power he developed as a teenage hockey player. But the one-time engineering major recognizes that he needs to tighten up his game. "The margins out here are so much more fine," he says. He's been encouraged to realize that, emotionally, he's already equipped to handle the bright lights of the Tour: "The stuff you feel inside is still the same." For all his humility, this golfing gentleman is not shy about setting an audacious goal: "I'm in this for however long it takes to be the best version of me, which I'm hoping is number one in the world some day."
McNealy may be the most intriguing young golfer to come along in some time, but he's candid about how far he still has to go. "I've learned so much," he says, "and I still don't know what I don't know."
Rest assured that he'll figure it out. And soon.