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FEATURE | RORY MCILROY

A Fresh

Start?

Rory McIlroy left it late in the season to win his first event of 2013, but as Lewine Mair explains, the sooner he's able to put his off-course issues aside, the better it will be for all concerned.

F Courtesy of Omega

ive years’ from now, Rory Mcilroy could have the eight more majors he needs to join Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Walter Hagen in double figures. If that were to happen, events of 2013 – he sank from a clear No 1 in the World Rankings to No 6 - would be seen as nothing more than a minor blip on his CV. If, on the other hand, he should struggle to rediscover his old magic and momentum, how many will put it down to the protracted financial tangles as he parted ways with Horizon Sports Management, the second management group of his short career? It is true that the 24-year-old McIlroy was able to put his troubles aside as he shrugged off his rivals at the Australian Open. But how much better would it have been if, at the same time, he had been able to set straight his business affairs and start 2014 on an all-round high? As it is, the court case with Horizon seems set to hang over him like the proverbial sword of Damocles until October - unless, of course, the parties settle out of court. To give a brief and basic summation of the problems, 2013 started on a bad note for McIlroy as he struggled with the clubs he was using under the new US$20m per annum deal Horizon had

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struck for him with Nike. He was more than a tad fractious when the media queried whether he had done the right thing on that front, while his old humour similarly went a-missing when it came to fielding questions about his romance with tennis-star girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki. It was in May that rumours had started in earnest about departure from Horizon. McIlroy felt that the company was making off with an unfairly high percentage of his earnings – namely five per cent of his on-course income and 20 percent of his off-course payments. Horizon, for their part, eventually made plain that they intend to counter-claim against the player for the damage done to their reputation and for loss of earnings through his termination of agreements. You had to feel for both parties – McIlroy and Conor Ridge, the founder and manager of Horizon – during November's DP World Tour Championship. Firstly, there was McIlroy unburdening his soul about how no athlete should have to go through what he had been through since he initiated the split: “It’s something that shouldn’t be in my mind. I’ve seen more lawyers’ offices and more lawyers this year than I care to see in my entire life. It’s not something I ever want to go through again and I’m making sure that I won’t ever have to go through it again.” [To him, HKGOLFER.COM


The Northern Irishman has stated his goal is to win two majors in 2014

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McIlroy felt that the company was making off with an unfairly high percentage of his earnings – namely five per cent of his on-course income and 20 percent of his off-course payments. Horizon, for their part, eventually made plain that they intend to counter-claim against the player for the damage done to their reputation and for loss of earnings through his termination of agreements. scratching his head as to why the young star deserted him.) Graeme McDowell, McIlroy’s great friend, had recommended Horizon and, for Horizon, the acquisition of the player who would top the rankings on both sides of the Atlantic in 2012 was quite the coup. Around that time, there were a couple of other high-profile players who were keen to move under the Horizon umbrella but, in a move which he must now regret, Ridge turned both away. He felt that with McIlroy on his books he would not be able to give them the attention they deserved. The McIlroy team are preparing to make much of how McIlroy signed his contract on

AFP

a more family-based management team is a sure answer – and never mind that that arrangement never really worked for the late Seve Ballesteros and his band of brothers.] “As a golfer,” continued McIlroy, “you want your mind as clear as possible and it’s obviously hard for that to happen if you’ve got other things that are going on." Elsewhere, Conor Ridge’s pale face told its own story. With court proceedings looming, he had more sense than to want to discuss his side of things with the media. Yet everyone knows how it was McIlroy who approached him rather than vice versa when he wanted to leave Chubby Chandler’s International Sports Management (ISM) group. (Chandler, incidentally, is still 52

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the day of Horizon’s 2011 Christmas party “in circumstances of great informality” and with Mclroy not obtaining any independent legal advice. In other words, the suggestion is that they were taking advantage of a certain naivety on the part of their incoming client. That allegation would clearly have held rather more water had this been McIlroy’s first experience of management men. However, the fact that he had taken it upon himself to terminate his ISM contract would lead many to believe that he was pretty sure of what he wanted second time around and that he was hardly signing in the dark. Though McIlroy has maintained that Ridge was primarily concerned with “maximising his own share of any commission”, the truth is that the percentages on which the two parties agreed were no more than the going rate. The only reason tongues wagged was because the sums involved were so vast. It goes without saying that there are all sorts of minor skirmishes besides. Such, for example, as Horizon gifting US$166,000 of McIlroy’s money without the player’s approval to UNICEF. And McIlroy wanting that money to be returned to his account. HKGOLFER.COM

To expand, in the aftermath of his meltdown at the 2011 Masters, McIlroy had visited the earthquake-devastated island of Haiti in his role as a UNICEF ambassador. It came naturally to him to do and say all the right things and the organisation was greatly cheered when he offered to make a return trip at the start of 2013. McIlroy had every intention of following through with that promise, only when his ’13 season got off to such wretched beginnings, he decided he could not afford the time. He said he would fix up something for later. Ridge handed over the money to UNICEF by way of a peace-offering and there are many in the management game who believed that he did his man a favour. Peter McEvoy, the former Walker Cup captain, is just one to feel that too many of today’s amateurs do not understand anywhere near enough about the workings of the professional game when they leave the amateur ranks. “It is a difficult transition,” says McEvoy. “The better amateurs will have had their hotels and air-fares paid by the various amateur bodies and they come to expect a certain modus-operandi which is simply not going to apply when they leave the amateur ranks. People are not going

With his second manager in as many years, Connor Ridge of Horizon Sports Management (top), at a function at the White House; with the Australian Open trophy (opposite) after coming from behind to pip local hero Adam Scott on the final green HK GOLFER・JAN 2014

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Though McIlroy has maintained that Ridge was primarily concerned with “maximising his own share of any commission”, the truth is that the percentages on which the two parties agreed were no more than the going rate. The only reason tongues wagged was because the sums involved were so vast.

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When in form McIlroy is one of the best drivers around – long but also straight. His disappointing early season form saw him barely find a fairway 54

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to be running around after them and arranging contracts for nothing.” Back in 1998, a little more knowledge would certainly have done no harm to the then 17-year-old Justin Rose when he signed for a relatively unknown management group in the immediate wake of his share of fourth place in the 1998 Open. The group in question promised all the right things but failed to get any of the sponsorships signed and sealed before Rose teed up in his first professional event. When Rose proceeded to miss one cut and then another, it is hardly surprising that those sponsors-in-the-making laid down their pens. Competitive soul that he is, McIlroy will be desperate to come out on the winning side of his battle with Horizon. Everyone else, meantime, would far rather he was directing more of his competitive energies to making the most of what could be his most prolific golfing years. The most oft-repeated viewpoint is that that he already has more than enough extra-curricular activities on his plate as he tries to blend his schedule with Wozniacki’s.

Indeed, in one more illustration of how he is as supportive of her as she is of him, he plans to be at his girlfriend’s side for the forthcoming Australian Open, Tiger Woods may have had his share of injury problems as a young man but the rather more destructive goings-on in his life did not catch up with him until he was in his 30s. By that time, of course, he had 14 majors safely in the bag. McIlroy insists that he is going to leave his latest team to sort out his financial affairs as from now but that has to easier said than done. Since he has been acutely aware of how much money he has been paying Horizon, he is hardly going to be oblivious to what he is shelling out in legal fees over the coming months. At the time of writing, there has been nothing to suggest that the situation might be resolved any earlier than October. And that though McIlroy, in the longer term, would not want to be responsible for the downfall of Horizon any more than Horizon would want to be blamed for standing in the way of a unique talent.  HKGOLFER.COM

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