x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

McIlroy's split with manager has divided opinions

Rory McIlroy's decision to part from Andrew 'Chubby' Chandler's ISM agency is one of a number of changes made in his professional and private life.

Rory McIlroy, left, won the US Masters at Congressional in June with his manager, Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler, centre, by his side. The two have now parted company, with McIlroy joining the Horizon agency.
Rory McIlroy, left, won the US Masters at Congressional in June with his manager, Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler, centre, by his side. The two have now parted company, with McIlroy joining the Horizon agency.

Rory McIlory sat alone in his room staring at the walls after blowing a four-shot lead at the Masters in April. He hadn't played like the most gifted player in golf that long afternoon, rather like a high handicapper with big problems in his swing.

Charl Schwartzel had won the Green Jacket and the celebration party was being held at the South African's place, and not the one rented by the then 21 year old from Northern Ireland who had led for the first three days at Augusta National.

It was then his manager, Andrew "Chubby" Chandler, knocked on his door.

"Over 22 years, you learn how to cope with these situations, you learn to say the right thing," Chandler, who also manages Schwartzel, told The Independent newspaper at the time.

"That night I went to see Rory and said, 'Well, at least I now know what to do when you win the Masters next year', because I'd just come from Charl's party. There's nothing else I could have said in that situation which would have made any sense at all."

McIlory appreciated the sentiment and publicly thanked Chandler for his comforting words.

Six months on - and one US Open win later - McIlroy last week parted company with Chandler and his International Sports Management (ISM) team. The move astonished Chandler, an Englishman who has tried to be polite but has let it be known he is been badly hurt.

From the outside looking in, it does seem a strange decision by McIlroy.

His choice was to move to the sports management agency Horizon, based in Dublin. His great friend Graeme McDowell, who himself left ISM four years ago, is at this agency, which is much smaller than ISM but has gained a reputation for looking after its clients.

McDowell has said one reason he moved was because he prefers to be part of a smaller roster, rather than one of many big names, which is the case at ISM.

But Chandler's confusion over McIlroy leaving him last week is understandable.

The former European Tour player had taken great care in not burning out golf's brightest young talent over the past four years they spent together, which has seen the 22 year old become a major winner and move to No 3 in the world.

"It's a massive responsibility, massive," Chandler said before the US Open in June, when asked about handling McIlroy.

"Rory's the first guy I've ever looked after that I've thought, 'You could actually kill him [as a player], you could actually have him hating the game by the age of 25'. That's why, at the age of 22, he's only playing 23, 24 tournaments a year.

"Come the US Open, you'll see him firing." Never a truer word has been said. McIlroy won this year's US Open at Congressional by eight shots with a 16-under par total.

Chandler also backed his man when he decided not to play at all in the four weeks between that victory and the British Open, when players and commentators alike lined up to criticise.

And yet it wasn't enough for a young man who could hardly have too many complaints about the state of his career."

A bizarre decision," was how Lee Westwood described it, the world No 2 being a long-established member of Chandler's stable at ISM.McIlroy's response was to un-follow Westwood on Twitter. Chandler got the same social media cold shoulder treatment.

The outrageously talented kid from the small town of Holywood in Northern Ireland, once known for having his feet on the ground, has undergone a lot of changes in recent months.

He broke up with long-time girlfriend Holly Sweeney, and has been dating the world's leading female tennis player, Caroline Wozniacki.

He also revealed that he was moving from his hometown to Florida because he was going to play the PGA Tour - despite pledging in the summer he would return to Europe for 2012.

The fear here is that McIlroy, the most exciting golfer to emerge from Europe since Seve Ballesteros, is changing too much at the same time.

Chandler looked to have been doing a good job. Of all the recent changes in his life, this is the one McIlory could live to regret.

ncameron@thenational.ae


Follow The National Sport on @SprtNationalUAE & Neil Cameron on @NeilCameron5