Agent moves into the big league
Published 22/10/2011 | 05:00
SIX years ago, Conor Ridge mortgaged his home to set up Horizon Sports Management. Yesterday his company graduated into one of the biggest players in global professional golf.
News that US Open champion Rory McIlroy, the most exciting and marketable young player on the world stage, is to join his good friend Graeme McDowell in the Horizon stable instantly propels the Irish company to an entirely new level in the sport.
McIlroy brings gravitas, influence and vast earning potential with him to the table at Horizon's HQ in Lower Leeson Street, Dublin, yet one would certainly be mistaken to suggest that the breathtaking success of his company has been beyond Ridge's wildest dreams.
Even as he quit Fintan Drury's Platinum One in 2005 and bravely struck out on his own in the world of sports management with a team of half-a-dozen aspiring Irish professional golfers, Ridge, then just 25, had a clear vision of the potential for his fledgling company.
This shone through in an interview he gave to a magazine published by the UCD Business Faculty in the autumn of 2007, shortly before the arrival of McDowell, also from ISM, catapulted Horizon into international prominence.
In a section headed 'The Entrepreneur', Ridge explained that Horizon was interested in "signing leading figures in a variety of sports" but "golf would be quite separate to that. In golf we want everybody".
McDowell's decision to make a fresh start in his career and link up with Horizon in November of that year was a major watershed for the Irish company.
"I like what's going on with Horizon," he said at the time. "They are young, they are ambitious and energetic and I feel they are a really good fit for me."
Englishman Ross Fisher, now a Ryder Cup player, would follow McDowell into the fold a year later, but the Portrush man's sensational breakthrough victory at the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach gave Horizon an opportunity to show they really could perform in the big league.
Ridge threw himself headlong into that mission, and McIlroy clearly was impressed with McDowell's ability to strike up a relatively easy and equal partnership with his manager.
Though born in Galway, Ridge moved to Dublin at the age of 14 and went to school at St Mary's before doing a commerce degree at UCD, followed by a masters in business at the Smurfit School.
From an early age he fostered a keen interest in sport, particularly golf and soccer, and he shares with McIlroy and McDowell a passion for Manchester United.
Ridge and wife Emma expect their first child next spring but 'wunderkind' McIlroy's arrival heralds the birth of a new era for Horizon.
Most people's impression of the sports agent has been shaped by the movie 'Jerry Maguire' and that famous scene in which Tom Cruise screams "show me the money", but Ridge certainly doesn't fit that stereotype.
"People get nervous about the sports management area and agency area," Ridge once acknowledged. However, he added: "We are straight-up people, very honest. Our record speaks for itself."
Clearly it spoke loudest of all to McIlroy.