NAPA — This is a column about Maverick McNealy, who, surprisingly, is not a souped-up character in the next “Cars” sequel by Disney and Pixar — you know, the showoff with painted flames who gets shown up at the end by Denty McHubcap.
McNealy is a talented young golfer, and he will make his professional debut Thursday at the Safeway Open in Napa, the tournament that officially kicks off the 2017-18 PGA season. He graduated from Stanford in June with a degree in management science and engineering, then set about reaching a difficult decision. Would he become a professional golfer, or head straight into the world of business?
McNealy chose the fairways.
Wednesday at Silverado Resort & Spa, site of the Safeway Open, I asked him about his zippy first name.
“My dad jokes that my mom had a crush on Tom Cruise, if you’ve ever seen ‘Top Gun,’” he said.
“It’s not a joke!” I heard from a couple rows behind me. It was Scott McNealy, Maverick’s father, who was sitting next to his wife, Susan.
“She does,” Maverick continued. “But my three younger brothers and I are actually all named after American cars. My dad grew up in Detroit and my grandpa worked for American Motors. It’s me, and then Dakota is a sophomore at Stanford, Colt is a freshman at Stanford and then Scout’s a junior in high school.”
A little while later I asked Scott and Susan if a fifth son would have been named Dart. Scott said they’d been on waiting on a girl they could name Mustang Sally. Touché.
“They’re all automobile (models), they all have second meanings, and they’re all country western,” Scott McNealy told me. “So Maverick is obvious. Dakota is Sioux for ‘friend.’ And Colt, we call him ‘little horse’; he’s built like a little horse. And Scout — I wouldn’t call him the most brave of the four … ”
“He definitely researches everything,” Susan offered.
Maverick’s grandfather, Raymond Williams McNealy, didn’t simply work for American Motors. He eventually rose to the position of vice chairman. When Scott was a teenager, he accompanied his father on golf outings with industry titans like Lee Iacocca.
But if the older McNealys were rooted in Detroit, the emerging generation is pure Silicon Valley. Scott co-founded Sun Microsystems, the computer and information technology giant, in 1982, and later started tech companies like Wayin and Curriki. The family lives in Portola Valley, and the boys attended or attend The Harker School, a prestigious prep school in San Jose.
Stanford is part of the nexus. Scott played golf while getting his undergraduate degree at Harvard, but he earned his MBA in Palo Alto. Susan was a Stanford undergrad, and her brother Bob played soccer there. Maverick always figured he’d attend Stanford, too. He just wasn’t sure he’d play golf.
In high school, the oldest of the McNealy boys wasn’t considered a phenom. His first love might have been hockey; he was a four-year captain of the San Jose Junior Sharks. McNealy was the 4,400th-ranked amateur when he graduated high school, he claimed in a typically thorough, 1,200-word “decision letter” that he posted to GoStanford.com on Aug. 23.
“We didn’t let our boys travel to play golf,” Scott McNealy said. “So people outside of Northern California didn’t know who he was. We just figured, you don’t fly out of Minnesota to play hockey. You don’t need to fly out of California to play golf.”