Chubby Chandler Alex Jenkins meets the former pro-turned-sports agent, who has been described as the most powerful man in golf
ust three days after interviewing Chandler on the verandah at Caesars Golf Macau following the conclusion of the Shui On Land China Golf Challenge, which starred Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, word came through that 22-year-old McIlroy had left Chandler's International Sports Management agency to join the same management company as his good friend Graeme McDowell. This was big news. This was also, for the purposes of this story at least, rather unfortunate timing.
Chubby at Congressional: McIlroy's US Open win was the fourth major triumph by a Chandler player
McIlroy is golf's leading light and Chandler is seen as the hottest agent in the game, thanks to an incredible last 18 months that has seen his players –Darren Clarke, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and, of course, McIlroy –net major championships. He also manages the interests of world number two Westwood. McIlroy and Chandler's relationship, on the face of things, seemed strong – both have clearly benefited tremendously from their time together. I n t he i m med iate a f termat h of t heir separation – which was announced after the final round of the PGA Grand Slam event in Bermuda – there was speculation that the split had been engineered months in advance, that Chandler knew what was coming. I didn't get that impression at all. Although Chandler, who formed ISM in 1989 after a less-than-stellar playing career that saw him win only once on tour, admitted that McIlroy "has his own ideas and doesn't want to be told what to do", he was full of excitement when talking about the young Northern Irishman. Chandler, a bear of a man with a thick northern English accent, is a straight-talker, one who has strong opinions on the state of the game and isn't afraid to ruffle a few feathers along the way. Whether he can enjoy the same success without the Golden Boy remains to be seen, but there seems little doubt that the 58-year-old is enjoying his life – and his work – to the full. You said recently that he Americans don't get it, that in 10 years time Asia – and China in particular – will have overtaken the States as the dominant power in golf. Has this trip reaffirmed that? Yes, definitely. The interesting thing for me has been seeing the development of China as a country. That's the most staggering thing: how much it is has come on in last 10 years. The wealth has filtered down. It's not just the very top that are interested in golf; there are now the beginnings of a big middle class. The HSBC [Champions] is the biggest tournament in Asia and now it's a WGC
HK Golfer・NOV 2011
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event. But the Americans don't really have a clue and it'll be interesting to see how many of them will play. I am convinced that in 10 years time the China Tour – never mind the Asian Tour – will be well worth playing on. You've been called the most powerful man in golf. Are you comfortable with that description? I struggle with it to be honest. We're just very fortunate to manage who we manage. We have a number of great young players and everything [the major wins] has happened at one. I understand that I do probably have a bit of power but I hate the fact that it's about me and not about them. The fact is the guys are all individuals, but people group them all together because we look after them. They're a bunch of highly talented and highly motivated individuals. We've probably helped to give them a bit of that, but it should be more about them and less about me. Your situation now is obviously a lot different than when you started ISM in 1989 ... Absolutely. I got lucky many times, including naming the company. ISM – International Sports Management – could easily have been Chubby's Promotions. They say you make your own luck. I ran into a young amateur that wanted advice about whether he should turn pro or not. We weren't even talking about management. I had played with him and knew he could do very well. At the end of the chat he said, 'OK, but can you run everything for me; I just want to play golf.' That was Darren Clarke. ISM has traditionally been a very European Tourcentric organisation. But now you're opening new offices in West Palm Beach, Florida. Are you starting to target American players? There's a bit of that – we have a couple of young American lads now – but Rory is going to live in Florida, as are Louis and Charl. West Palm Beach is a good focal point for us. We want to grown our American involvement organically. Is there a danger of ISM getting too big? Yeah, there is. The danger – and it's a throwback to the fact we don't have any contracts in place with anyone, everything is done on a handshake – is that nobody leaves us. We don't have a time limit on anything with our players. But the older ones realise that and understand the emphasis is always going to be on young talent. How involved are you with each player's schedule? Very. I sit down with all of them. Rory is
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finding our right now what he wants to do and how he wants to do it. He goes from one extreme to the other sometimes. He goes from not playing at all, but then he's on the road for 12 weeks. Lee on the other hand is different and I have more input on his schedule. We sat down this week and discussed next year. From the second week of January, after he's had his winter break, through to August, all he thinks about are the majors. Then he has a two-week holiday after the PGA Championship and from September to January he'll play where he wants. I don't think he'll ever join the PGA Tour but there's every chance he'll spend a bit more time here in Asia. You've said that you need to be protective of Rory because you're worried about burnout. How many events is he playing a year? This year will be about 28, 29. Rory makes a lot of his own decisions. He's 22 and finding out. He has no real fixed idea what he wants. He was a member of the [PGA] Tour for a year then jacked it in, and now he's going to rejoin next year. There's a couple of things that have influenced that. Life in Belfast has changed for him and as the US Open champion he feels a responsibility to be a member of the PGA Tour. I could see him in a year or two thinking differently, but the fact is that Rory is always going to be in a position to do what he wants. Rory has his own ideas and doesn't want to be told what to do. He wants to figure it out himself. Some of your players have received criticism, mostly from the American media, for appearing in tournaments in Asia that offer appearance fees. How do you respond to that? Yeah, but there's appearance money in America, they just don't want to admit it. Four tournaments in America offered Rory appearance money this year. They don't see that if you do nine holes with clients, do a hospitality visit and have a dinner – which is all paid for my a company – that is what we call appearance fees. They call it a promotional deal. It's the same thing. The daft thing is that the Golf Channel have been ribbing Rory for playing this week – talking about how much cash he must have made, the fact he's on a bit of a boys' trip – but I know that when we arrive in Bermuda tomorrow, Rory will be the first person they'll want to interview. They want it both ways. They want to absolutely slaughter them but they can't survive without them. What mistakes have you made along the way? GMAC [Graeme McDowell] was one. I hold my hands up. There was a guy working for us who I thought had a very close relationship with HKGOLFER.COM
GMAC. I thought he was giving him the support that he needed. But that didn't prove to be the case. When Rory came onboard, GMAC felt he was being neglected and at the same time he got a good offer to join someone else. But that was down to me. If things aren't working out the buck stops with me, not with anyone else.
Even before his US Open win, the offers must have been pouring in for Rory. How much do you know what to charge people for his services? Absolutely – we constantly get enquiries. It's a good question and it's interesting, because you just find out as you go along. Actually, you find out by people saying 'no'.
GMAC left you before he won the US Open, which was before any of your players had won a major ... Yeah, but luckily I didn't have long to think about it – only three weeks [when Oosthuizen won the Open Championship]. GMAC was a really good champion and opened the door for a bunch of guys who realised they too were good enough to win majors. He may have been the catalyst for what's happened since.
Well Santander [the British retail bank, who recently signed Rory for a multi-year deal rumored to be worth in excess of US$5 million] clearly didn't say 'no' ... That's right. That's a great deal for Rory. The television exposure – Rory will appear in terrestrial TV ads for them – is good for him and good for golf. Santander have five million account holders in the UK and one of their deals is that if Rory wins a major next year, all those account holders will get an extra one per cent interest on their accounts. There are different reasons for doing different things, but the Santander deal is a great one.
Does it get any better than Darren Clarke winning the Open? [Laughs] No. I know how hard he's worked and what he's been through. What he did at Royal St George's was amazing. I think he's probably extended a few guys' careers as a result. I think Westwood took something out of it too. He saw an older guy, competitive but nowhere near as fit as he is. Lee probably now thinks he has eight or 10 more chances at the majors that he did before. Who would you like to manage that you're not currently? Nobody. What about Tiger? That's not a fair question. I'm not going to get the opportunity so it doesn't matter. People ask me what I would do with Tiger's situation before, but I don't know because I don't know the full story. Believe me, we are very happy with where we are and who we've got. I don't look enviously at anything. We've got the number two and number three in the world. I'm very happy.
Westwood Waiting: Chandler believes Darren Clarke's Open Championship win can inspire Westwood to a first major title
With Rory committed to playing in America next year, will that limit his Asian appearances, particularly with regard to the Hong Kong Open? No, I think he'll still come out here at the end of the year. The timing is good. Hong Kong is one of his favourite tournaments. He loves the city, he loves the golf course and he likes the people. There's every chance he'll play again next year.
" GMAC felt he was being neglected and at the same time he got a good offer to join someone else. If things aren't working out the buck stops with me, not with anyone else." AFP
"I understand that I have a bit of power but I hate the fact that it's about me and not about the players."
Looking back, was what happened at Augusta a good experience for Rory? Definitely. He was struggling a bit on that last day and made a couple of wrong decisions. Actually, he didn't stop and think about what was happening. He needed to slow himself down. Some things conspired against him too. It was a slow round, and he's a very quick player. He was playing with a guy [Angel Cabrera] who doesn't speak English and doesn't really engage, after he'd played the previous rounds with his mates [Jason Day and Rickie Fowler]. There were a few things that unsettled him but he learnt from that. HKGOLFER.COM
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