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Thursday 14 December 2017

Conor Ridge climbed to the pinnacle of world sport

Conor Ridge
Conor Ridge

AT SOME stage in the future, when the dust settles on the most traumatic and dramatic two years of his life, Conor Ridge surely will reflect in wonder on an unforgettable journey to the pinnacle of world sport with his own management company Horizon.

It's unclear what the future might hold for the Dublin firm now that Northern Ireland's dynamic duo, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, have left, the latter amicably after the completion of his contract with Horizon in December.

Yet there's no doubting where they've been.

Whether it was on the final green at Pebble Beach, sharing with McDowell and his father Kenny, the delight of a first Major success in the 2010 US Open.

Or to the top of the world with McIlroy as he consummated their relationship, under the terms of their initial management contract negotiated in December 2011, by taking Tiger's mantle as golf's most dominant player the following winter.

An invitation to a White House banquet with McIlroy, as guests of President Barack Obama and British Pime Minister David Cameron, in March 2012, was vastly removed from Ridge's humble beginnings in sports management with Fintan Drury's 'Platinum One' a dozen years earlier.

His first golf client was Walker Cup star Colm Moriarty and when Ridge struck out on his own in 2004 and founded Horizon, he brought a coterie of talented young Irish professionals into his stable, including Stephen Browne, Gareth Maybin, Michael Hoey, David Higgins, Justin Kehoe and Noel Fox.

Back in the day, Galway-born Ridge, who was educated at St Mary's College and graduated with a BComm from UCD in 1998, also had athletes Derval O'Rourke and David Gillick on his books.

Yet golf would soon become his speciality, with the signing of rising Portrush star McDowell from Englishman Chubby Chandler's International Sports Management in 2007 helping elevate Horizon to a new level in world golf.

McDowell's impressive Ryder Cup debut in 2008 was followed in 2010 by the US Open title in a season of stellar success with Horizon that surely helped persuade McIlroy to look to the Dublin firm when he too decided to leave ISM in October 2011, months after winning his first Major, the US Open.

McIlroy's arrival completed Horizon's transformation into a serious player on the world golf stage and Ridge effectively doubled his staff and his overheads to ensure the organisation was equipped for the challenge of representing the world's most exciting golfer.

After the wide and varied sponsorship portfolio negotiated by Chandler was rationalised, Horizon set about signing endorsement deals fitting for a player of McIlroy's high stature, most notably a five year, $100m agreement with Nike that in the winter of 2012 propelled the youngster into the upper echelons of sport's highest earners.

This massive deal would also cause friction within the camp. Through the fraught early months of 2013 as the golfer grappled with his game and new equipment, other fractious issues arose which led to McIlroy's decision to tell Ridge on April 1, weeks after signing a contract extension to 2017, of his intention to move on and set up his own company.

The enormity of this blow to Horizon is best judged by the figures released in the High Court before Christmas in which the company alleged $9m unpaid commission was owed since April 13 under the terms of McIlroy's contract.

Horizon has slimmed down considerably. Rising Irish star Shane Lowry and England's Ross Fisher are the only remaining golfers on their books.

Irish Independent

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