Friday 27 April 2018

McIlroy was Chubby's meal ticket and it's nobody else's fault he left

Rory McIlroy and Andrew 'Chubby' Chandler during happier times at the US PGA championship last August
Rory McIlroy and Andrew 'Chubby' Chandler during happier times at the US PGA championship last August

Karl MacGinty

RORY McILROY has just made the biggest and, almost certainly, the brightest decision of his four years as a professional golfer.

Quitting management company ISM stands out as an act of true clarity by McIlroy amid recent chaos and controversy in his career. It must have been excruciatingly difficult for the 22-year-old to look his agent, long-time friend and mentor Chubby Chandler in the eye last Wednesday evening in New York and sever their ties.

But thank goodness somebody in this relationship was mature enough to see it was going down the pan. Since the news of their parting broke last Friday, the silence from McIlroy and his new management team at Dublin firm Horizon Sports has been deafening.

The only communication from Horizon or McIlroy was a bland statement issued on the player's behalf through a PR agency. Discretion, it seems, is the new order of the day. The re-branding of Rory McIlroy has already begun.

Over the weekend, a "shocked" Chandler regaled the English media with his side of the story. Going into ostrich mode, he stretched the credibility of all but the ignorant and ill-informed with some of the 'reasons' he offered for McIlroy's departure.

Could anything be more pathetic than quotation: "I don't know whether it was his girlfriend (Denmark's World No 1 tennis player Caroline Wozniacki) getting in his ear or someone else, but I thought we were doing a pretty good job, and I think that's how the outside world saw it."


ISM's relationship with McIlroy had been careening out of control long before he met Wozniacki. Their abject failure to draw up with McIlroy a coherent, long-term career plan led directly to the Ulsterman's ludicrous on, off and on-again courtship with the US PGA Tour in recent years.

There are several reasons why McIlroy, the hero of Congressional last June -- hailed as golf's most naturally gifted player and a worthy champion for Haiti's earthquake victims -- should, four months later, be the subject of so much negative publicity. And they've got absolutely nothing to do with Wozniacki.

Instead, the responsibility lies with McIlroy and a management company so fearful of losing its biggest bread-winner, it was unwilling or unable to offer firm guidance when it was required.

Laying his hands on the US Open trophy didn't invest McIlroy with any special wisdom. He remains as hot-headed, impetuous and impatient as any other 22-year-old male in the country -- except the whole world tunes into his tantrums.

Winning a first Major compounds the weight of expectation and infinitely increases the already intense pressure to perform. Look how Darren Clarke (42) has struggled for form in the wake of his British Open victory at Sandwich.

The laissez faire approach of Chandler and his team at ISM had been the last thing McIlroy needed since June as the youngster staggered from one controversy to the next.

In fairness, McIlroy himself must carry the can for railing against the wind on Sunday at Royal St George's. Those outlandish remarks were delivered in a fit of pique as, not for the first time, he showed naivety by becoming frustrated with a clever and persistent line of questioning from a reporter.

McIlroy's temper got the better of him once again during the Irish Open at Killarney when he launched a ham-fisted and self-damaging Twitter attack on a TV pundit for questioning his course management.

Given his repeated media faux pas, it's astonishing that ISM only in recent weeks hired a media consultant ostensibly to offer McIlroy the sort of advice which politicians and businessmen take for granted. Sadly, the unfortunate individual's first task was to write the press release announcing McIlroy's departure.

McIlroy's on-course demeanour that week in Killarney was dreadful and he gave only cursory acknowledgement to the thousands who turned out for a peek at Ireland's most exciting young golfer.

This was a miserable effort by McIlroy in every sense, compounded by his decision to bring his new personal security detail with him to Kerry.

Padraig Harrington has mastered the art of smiling, even in extremis, and it's a pity nobody in his management team quietly passed on the same message to you know who.

At the PGA Championship, McIlroy and his caddie JP Fitzgerald were castigated by Golf Channel pundit Brandel Chamblee for attempting that ill-fated shot off a tree root on Thursday which resulted in a wrist injury.


The station ran the incident and Chamblee's comments again and again, prompting yours truly to ask McIlroy after his second round on Friday if he'd been aware of the coverage and what he thought of it, and if he agreed with the suggestion that Fitzgerald should have stepped in and prevent him playing the controversial shot. Plainly annoyed with the question, McIlroy snapped back: "He's my caddie, not my father."

It had been a legitimate enquiry and elicited the comment of the week but Chandler was beside himself with fury, loudly taking me to task a few moments later for constantly "winding up Rory with your questions". Accusing myself and another colleague of never "playing the game" with his clients, he advised I'd do well to remember "Rory is your meal ticket".

No, Mr Chandler, he was your meal ticket. McIlroy means much, much more to those of us lucky enough to have watched this hugely talented and precocious young Irishman grow into one of the greatest golfers on earth. In many respects, Chandler and his team at ISM are supremely professional, which is reflected in the three Majors won by their players in 2010.

Yet they let arguably the greatest of them slip through their fingers by trying to be his friend. McIlroy has been seriously misguided -- his management team appeared to have ceded full authority to their young client.

Elite golfers might appear invulnerable in their pomp, but they can be fragile too. Just look at the havoc wreaked on Sergio Garcia's career by a couple of painfully close calls behind Harrington and being dumped by a girlfriend.

Garcia signalled his return from the wilderness with last weekend's victory at the Castello Masters. It should be a source of comfort that McIlroy was bright enough to see the writing on the wall and do something about it. As with Graeme McDowell, one suspects a more stable, structured and supportive environment is just over the Horizon.

Irish Independent

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