Golf’s new phenom has C-suite skills
|McNealy has deals with KPMG, Callaway and Under Armour.
No agent, no parents, no entourage — just McNealy, a 21-year-old who had lit up the amateur golf world while at Stanford and was now one of the most anticipated soon-to-be pros in years.
“The thing we want to know is what kind of person is he going to be on and off the course,” said Shawn Quill, KPMG’s executive director of sports marketing and sponsorships, who set up the meeting and was there that day. “If he can interact with CEOs and clients.”
McNealy was confident, polite and fully engaged, asking KPMG Chairman and CEO Lynne Doughtie questions about the accounting firm’s business. After a light lunch and nine holes of golf, McNealy called an Uber to take him to the airport.
As part of that multiyear agreement, KPMG is required to introduce McNealy to 75 C-level executives every year. It’s an unusual clause in the contract of a young athlete, but McNealy is far from the norm, a golfer whose combination of game, education and family business background made his professional debut the subject of anticipation in both the golf and business press.
Golf agent Rocky Hambric says he hasn’t heard of such a clause in his 40 years in the game but thinks it’s a great idea, especially for McNealy. Hambric, who doesn’t represent McNealy, is impressed with the golfer’s ability to win and his meteoric improvement in college. “I didn’t see him as the best junior player, but he became the best college player,” Hambric said.
McNealy, who turns 22 Tuesday, doesn’t have any weaknesses when it comes to golf skills, Hambric says, but his intelligence and maturity level set him apart and remind Hambric of another young PGA Tour star. “If I was going to compare him to a young golfer turning professional,” Hambric said, “by far and away the best comparison would be Jordan Spieth.”
Most great athletes, even the most scholarly, turn professional at their first opportunity, but speculation was that McNealy would pursue a business career despite collecting a raft of college golf awards and his standing as the No. 1 amateur in the world. “Why America’s Best Golf Prospect May Never Turn Pro,” read a headline on a June 2016 story about him in The Wall Street Journal.
When McNealy did announce his intention to turn professional late this summer, after graduating from Stanford with a 3.8 grade-point average, he did so in perhaps a unique position to run his own enterprise.
Since LeBron James entered the NBA in 2003 and created a multifaceted business team with himself at the center, many athletes have followed the model. Now comes McNealy, who may be able to capitalize on stardom in somewhat the same way, thanks to his education, upbringing and pedigree.
McNealy’s father, Scott McNealy, laughed when told the story of his son’s meeting with KPMG. “You say, ‘How is he able to talk to a CEO?’” Scott said. “He talks to a CEO every night at dinner.”
Scott McNealy was CEO of Sun Microsystems, which he co-founded in 1982 and sold to Oracle in 2009 for $7.9 billion. He is CEO and co-founder of Wayin, another Silicon Valley company, which enables brands to deliver interactive campaigns through digital channels. And now he’s part of a new effort: TeamMaverick.
|Maverick played as an amateur at the 2014 U.S. Open, with father Scott as his caddie.
He grew up surrounded by CEOs, as well as Silicon Valley lawyers, real estate developers and business leaders, whom his father invited over to the house on a regular basis. He also grew up playing golf with his dad, and Scott is considered a very good golfer in the executive ranks.
“I taught Mav how to golf till he was 12, and then he kicked my butt,” Scott said. “So we went out and got the best swing coach we could find.”
Like his son, Scott grew up the son of a successful businessman, Raymond William McNealy Jr., who was vice chairman of American Motors Corp. Executives of the major U.S. automakers, including Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca, would visit the house. Maverick and his three younger brothers — Colt, Dakota and Scout — all bear the name of American cars.
“I tell all my boys you can play golf, but you have to get a technical degree,” Scott said. He called Maverick’s degree in management science and engineering, “half engineering and half mini-MBA.”
Turning pro gave Maverick a chance to put into practical use the things he learned at Stanford, including “decision analysis,” Scott said.
Scott functioned as an adviser, or as he called it “a board of directors,” but said he would not allow his son to delegate leadership. Maverick’s company is TeamMaverick LLC and is incorporated in Nevada. “He is the CEO of TeamMaverick,” Scott said.
The first order of business was to select an agent or, more precisely, to decide whether to use one. “My dad and I were seriously contemplating not having an agent and doing this ourselves,” Maverick said.
But they decided to take written proposals and ended up interviewing “seven or eight” agents. (Hambric submitted a written proposal but did not make the cut for the oral interviews, he said.)
|McNealy (center) with KPMG’s Shawn Quill (left) and Lynne Doughtie at their August meeting.
Courtesy of: KPMG
“Peter was my first meeting of the interview process and completely turned my perception of what an agent was upside down,” Maverick said. He liked and trusted Webb and decided to sign with him.
One agent offered to represent Maverick free for the first year, Scott said. “Maverick said, ‘Well, that’s interesting,’” he said. “But I said [to the agent], ‘I would counsel Mav not to do that, because if after the first year we decide we don’t like you, I don’t want to owe you anything.’”
Choosing Webb came down to a “gut” feeling for the young McNealy. “We like that he’s low key,” Scott said. “He doesn’t want to be front and center.”
Maverick is starting his pro career with three major brand sponsors: KPMG, Callaway Golf and Under Armour.
KPMG is on the front of his cap and Callaway Golf is on the side and on his bag. He is wearing Under Armour from the neck down.
Maverick announced his sponsors in a video created and storyboarded by CAA Sports, which serves as KPMG’s outside consulting firm. It’s similar to the videos that top high school athletes have made in recent years announcing which college they’ve chosen to attend, KPMG’s Quill noted. It was approved by both Callaway and Under Armour before Maverick posted it on his social media channels.
“My world amateur golf ranking in high school was 3,767,” Maverick says in the opening of the video, which shows him taking a KPMG and Callaway hat, Under Armour shoes and shirt out of a closet. “Four years, 11 collegiate victories, a No. 1 worldwide amateur ranking, and a college degree later, I’ve had a successful run. But none of that matters in my quest to make it to the PGA Tour.”
Maverick said the No. 1 factor in choosing those three companies was “authenticity” to who he is as a person.
Maverick made his pro debut early last month at the Safeway Open in his backyard of Napa, Calif., and was in a nine-way tie for first on Friday before finishing tied for 52nd place. He is scheduled to play in seven PGA Tour events on sponsor exemptions and participate in Q-School this fall.
“To whom much is given, much is expected,” is a phrase Maverick heard many times from his father, growing up. Those who have met and interacted with the young golfer say those are words he actually lives by.
Harry Arnett, Callaway Golf’s senior vice president of marketing and brand management, has met a lot of young golfers from wealthy families. Maverick McNealy stood out from them. “Unless you knew going in, you would have no way of knowing he grew up in the upper echelon of Silicon Valley. He’s a different kind of guy in how thoughtful he is,” Arnett said. “There are no airs about him.”
When Maverick visited Callaway’s headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif., north of San Diego, he came alone. He spent time talking to the golf manufacturer’s engineers and visiting the labs. “He wanted to see everything,” Arnett said.
|Scott McNealy: “I taught Mav how to golf till he was 12, and then he kicked my butt. So we went out and got the best swing coach we could find.”
Callaway sponsored Maverick’s college team, signing the deal with Stanford, a Nike school, after Nike got out of the golf club equipment business. But that is not why Maverick signed with Callaway, Scott said.
“He really liked the engineering at Callaway and he really enjoyed the shop tour,” Scott said. “All of my boys are golf club junkies.”
Maverick elaborated on that. “When I visited Callaway HQ a year ago, I was blown away by their R&D process and the amount of resources and attention that it was getting,” he said.
When he met with Callaway staff and engineers, Maverick took off his hat, he smiled, he never looked at his phone, said Tim Reed, Callaway senior vice president of global sports marketing. “Maverick is special,” Reed said. “He can sit in Chip [Brewer]’s office, our CEO, and ask him questions about the business, about product life cycles and his background. Very competent questions.”
“From the technical side he’s got the full package,” Reed said. “He’s long enough. His launch conditions off the driver are great. He carries it long enough. He carries it far enough. He’s got a second gear.”
This generation of young golfers has been influenced by Tiger Woods. They are better athletes and have grown up with more technology to help their game.
But Reed said what makes Maverick special is his intelligence, his tenacity and determination. “There is this other part of his mental side that he will never give up. And that, that’s what’s hard to find, is players that will get down and go beat you. And his desire is to beat you.”
Hambric, the agent, said Maverick has a complete game. “He’s not the longest hitter, but he’s long enough,” Hambric said. “He’s really good around the greens.” He also echoed Reed’s comments about his mental game.
Another agent who recruited but didn’t sign Maverick and asked not to be named, like Hambric compared Maverick with Spieth. “He plays like Jordan. He’s a great putter. His brain and how he manages his game are attributes.”
The Spieth comparison plays well for KPMG’s Quill. “In fact, in our own internal sales efforts for our leadership we compared him to Jordan,” Quill said.
“We remember when he came on, we thought, ‘This is exactly who we would be looking for, if we were looking for someone.’”
Five years later, with top endorser Phil Mickelson 47 years old, KPMG targeted Maverick as the player it wanted.
KPMG serves as outside consultant to many of the biggest corporations in the world and told Quill that a contract clause featuring executive access was something they could offer that an equipment or apparel company couldn’t. “We wanted to differentiate ourselves from other sponsors,” Quill said.
Maverick liked that clause, and KPMG is in the sponsorship sweet spot — the front of his cap.
His father is proud of his golf success so far and how he handles himself, but he says he worries, a bit, about the pressure on his son.
“I just hope the expectations aren’t too high on him,” Scott said. “He’s a great kid — I’ll brag about that all day long. But I hope the expectations on him are reasonable. He’s 21 years old.”
Maverick said he is not sure what he wants to do in golf and in his life. “I want to become the best player in the world, but most importantly the best golfer that I can become,” he said. “I would love to give back in some ways, and supporting youth athletics is very exciting and important to me. But to have the ability to make a big difference, I need to make some birdies first!”