Commentary

The world's richest caddie

Updated: June 11, 2014, 7:36 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPN.com

PINEHURST, N.C. -- Scott McNealy, the near-billionaire (we'll get to that) caddying for his 18-year-old son at the U.S. Open, knows what you are thinking. He knows the paying public believes the last thing golf needs is another absurdly rich titan of industry using a major championship as a forum for his family's whims.

McNealy might be carrying a bag at Pinehurst, yet his bank account summons the image of the Ted Knight character in "Caddyshack," the judge who assured a young, working-class caddie worrying about his future that "the world needs ditchdiggers, too."

[+] EnlargeMaverick McNealy
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesMaverick McNealy gets his work ethic from the man who'll carry his bag in the U.S. Open: his dad and Sun Microsystems founder Scott McNealy.

But the man living a blue blood's life wants you to understand he represents a blue-collar ethos. First, he needs to set the record straight on his net worth.

"Although people keep using the 'B-word,' " McNealy said of being described as a billionaire, "I'm not one."

His computer technology company, Sun Microsystems, was indeed sold to Oracle for $7.4 billion in 2010. Asked if the remains of that sale still made him the richest man at Pinehurst -- Phil Mickelson included -- McNealy conceded: "Yeah, that's probably accurate. I'm still cheap, though. I didn't want to pay for my son to have a caddie, so I offered to do it for free."

He offered to rake traps and replace divots for Maverick McNealy, a qualifier and rising Stanford sophomore who will tee it up Thursday morning in what he called "my first real pro event." In his Stanford cap and shirt, Maverick has the lean, athletic, well-groomed look of someone who just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren Polo ad.

"They've got the platinum spoon in their mouths," McNealy said of his four sons, ages 12 to 18, "and they're being watched and everybody is going to look for the bratty, rich kid thing. I dare you to find that in any of my four boys. They're all fine young men."

McNealy, 59, would have it no other way. On a blistering hot day in the Carolina Sandhills, the former captain of the Harvard golf team lugged his boy's clubs across a treacherous course, and later baked in the sun on the putting green, sweating a greenskeeper's sweat as he fed golf balls to Maverick.

Scott McNealy enjoyed this honest day's work, a virtue instilled in him as a child. His grandfather was the head of surgery at Cook County (Ill.) Hospital and among the pioneers in the advancement of open heart surgery. His father was the vice chairman of American Motors Corporation.

"My dad worked a bazillion hours and was very successful," McNealy said. "He said to me a long time ago, 'You were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, and everybody's going to look at you and think you got to where you were because you lived a privileged life. And so you're going to have to work extra hard to overcome that.'

"I took that to heart."

If McNealy's first company, Data Dump, was a disaster, his second, Sun Microsystems, was anything but, riding the Silicon Valley wave of the 1980s and ultimately giving McNealy a platform to go after his favorite target, Bill Gates and Microsoft. Now McNealy serves as the chairman of Wayin, a Denver-based social media company where Maverick has interned, and as the inspiration behind Curriki.org, which provides free and open learning resources for children in kindergarten through 12th grade. This week he's merely serving as the richest caddie in the world.

"I always felt I had to outwork everybody in my company," he said. "Even though I was the boss I had to work more hours, harder, with higher integrity and higher standards and with more compassion than anybody else in the room . . . I wasn't an executive, but I was part of a team and that's how I always viewed it.

"You ought to ask the janitors in my companies if I didn't grab a broom with them if we were all working hard and working late. I don't think you'll find any janitor anywhere who would say, 'Hey, he didn't pitch in and help out.' When I was working in the [United Automobile Workers] shop, I'd be sweeping up my area and the union foreman would come over and say, 'Stop. Put that broom down. You're not allowed to keep the place neat and clean and safe because it's against union rules. You're taking a job from a union worker.' "

At Pinehurst, McNealy is taking a temporary job from a full-time caddie, and his wife and three younger sons are along for this most improbable ride. Maverick didn't start playing competitive golf until he was a high school sophomore, and he couldn't imagine that he'd qualify for the U.S. Open a few years later.

His old man? At Harvard, Scott McNealy once hit a ball out of bounds late in a round that cost him a chance to play in the NCAA championships. He never thought it was possible to realize the dream he's now living through his kid.

Maverick made his mark at his first U.S. Open the old-fashioned way: He earned it. The night before his 36-hole sectional qualifier, the management science and engineering major was up late working on a computer program that solves complex mazes and algorithms. After he qualified, in between practice sessions, Maverick completed four final exams before hitting the road for North Carolina.

The kid doesn't want a single thing handed to him.

"Back in first and second grade," Maverick said, "when people first called me 'the rich kid,' I didn't like that very much. I decided there was nothing I could do about what they think other than work hard, do the right thing, and let them see that I got to where I am through hard work. Just like my dad."

Maverick said he would love to make the cut "and have my dad on my bag on Father's Day." Scott doesn't want any pressure on his Mav. He only wants his son to continue treating the officials, volunteers and fans with the respect they deserve.

But in the end, this is a heated athletic competition. And Scott McNealy, the caddie who made himself a billionaire (almost), knows what's at stake.

"If we make it to the weekend," he said, "I'll be the richest man in America."

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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