Sport Golf

Tuesday 23 January 2018

McIlroy seeks a 'fresh approach'

RORY McILROY'S shock decision to sever his longtime business relationship with agent Andrew 'Chubby' Chandler and follow Graeme McDowell into the smaller stable at Horizon Sports Management is a massive boost to the stock of the young Dublin company and Irish golf in general.

Even Chandler himself was taken by surprise when McIlroy, the hottest golfer at the box office since the demise of Tiger Woods, informed him on Wednesday evening of his plans to leave International Sports Management.

Insiders reveal there has been absolutely no hint of a break-up in Bermuda earlier this week as US Open-winner McIlroy played in the PGA Grand Slam Challenge with fellow Major champions Keegan Bradley and former ISM colleagues Darren Clarke and Charl Schwartzel.

It's believed the 22-year-old Ulsterman broke the news as he and Chandler flew together that night from Bermuda to New York.

One can only assume it came as a massive body-blow to the garrulous Englishman, who, along with Clarke, 'mentored' McIlroy as an amateur and then helped chart the youngster's course through his first four years as a professional to super-stardom.

In that time, McIlroy has earned €10m in prize-money and much more again on sponsorship deals with firms like Jumeirah, Oakley and, more recently, Banco Santander, a myriad of other endorsement contracts and lucrative appearance fees.

Yet all this is only a drop in the ocean alongside McIlroy's astronomical money-making potential in the wake of his thrilling victory at Congressional ... especially if the Holywood star fulfils his burning ambition to win next April's US Masters at Augusta National.

If ISM helped McIlroy nurture his talent, Horizon will now reap the bounty.

His endorsement also will bring enormous international prestige to the Dublin company and boost the long-held ambition of founder Conor Ridge to provide young professionals on this island with an Irish entrée to the professional game.

IT'S funny the difference five days make.

A statement issued in Rory McIlroy's name yesterday said of his decision to leave ISM: "I am now keen to move onto the next stage of my career and I feel this will be facilitated by a fresh view and a new structure around me.

"Therefore I'm delighted to be joining Horizon and I look forward to working with my new team," added the Ulsterman, who went on to say he'd be "forever grateful" to Chandler for "the very important role he and his team played in my success to date."

There'd been little hint of this need for a fresh approach on Monday in Bermuda, when McIlroy extolled Chubby's virtues in a video interview before the Grand Slam Championship.

Yet when the interviewer asked if Chandler was "a father figure or a manager," maybe McIlroy let the mask slip ever so slightly with the reply: "No, he's a manager. Obviously it's a very personal relationship because I've known him for so long but, at the end of the day, he is the manger.

"He tries to get me the deals and tries to point me in the right direction."

Plainly, not any longer.

Not content to play second fiddle

McILROY'S decision to walk away from the company which nurtured him as a professional is not without precedent. Around 30 years ago, American golf legend Jack Nicklaus left Mark McCormack's International Management Group and struck out on his own.

It was widely believed at the time that Nicklaus felt the legendary Arnold Palmer would forever be the favourite at IMG, a situation which might also just as easily apply to the set-up McIlroy faced at International Sports Management.

Given the pivotal role they played in helping Chandler build up his management company, Clarke and Lee Westwood will forever be seen by the Englishman as veritable senior partners.

After coming to their attention before he'd even reached his teens, McIlroy inevitably will be seen as 'The Kid', regardless of his man-sized achievements on the golf course.

Yet after his closest friend in golf, Graeme McDowell, left ISM in November 2007, he forged a relationship with Conor Ridge in which the Portrush man very much is the master of his own destiny as he works with a small and energetic company.

McIlroy certainly was a star attraction among the 50 professionals at ISM, but he must have been impressed to see the partnership, even friendship, his close pal McDowell enjoyed with the 31-year-old Ridge


Spotlight on dealing with controversy

DESPITE McIlroy's fantastic recovery from that Sunday afternoon meltdown at Augusta to win the US Open in spectacular fashion at Congressional 70 days later, there had been strange rumblings from the camp in recent months.

McIlroy definitely brought flak upon himself when he launched a fiery broadside at Golf Channel analyst and former professional Jay Townsend after the American had been harshly critical of the performance of the youngster's caddie during the Irish Open in Killarney.

"Shut up," McIlroy tweeted. "You're a commentator and a failed golfer, your opinion means nothing!"

This stirred a tidal wave of controversy, all of it unnecessary, sparking questions about the role of management in helping steer the young Ulsterman down a safer path.

Revealingly, when Chandler was asked during August's US PGA about further Golf Channel criticism of caddie JP Fitzgerald for failing to intervene before McIlroy injured his wrist hitting that ill-advised shot off a tree root, he said: "Bulls**t, Rory doesn't listen to anybody."

Many a true word is spoken in jest.

Financial matters play their part

MONEY is no longer the ultimate motivating factor in the career of Rory McIlroy.

Naturally, it's important, but now that he's graduated into a Major champion, the principal driving force behind the Ulsterman is making history and winning Majors.

After McIlroy's thrilling success at Congressional, Nigel Currie, director of sports marketing agency Brand Rapport in London, said: "Rory has the potential to do what Roger Federer, Michael Schumacher and Tiger Woods have done.

"Golf, motor racing, boxing and tennis are the big earning sports and if he was to dominate golf like he could do for a number of years, he could get up towards the one billion-dollar mark."

Yet it's interesting to note that Tiger recast his business relationship with IMG after making his Major championship breakthrough at the 1997 Masters.

Instead of paying the industry norm of 10pc of his on-course earnings to IMG and 20pc of any income drummed up by the management, Woods negotiated a new deal inkeeping with the stratospheric sums he was likely to make.

Nobody knows what McIlroy's terms were at ISM or if, like Clarke and Westwood, he merely shook hands on a deal with Chandler, in the old fashioned way.

Yet it would not come as a surprise if Horizon offered him a more competitive 'rate', while the Dublin firm are famously fastidious in outlining in writing where each and every penny goes. That's the modern way.

Irish Independent

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