McIlroy's parting with Chandler, ISM unexpected

Rory McIlroy, right, is joined his caddie J.P. Fitzgerald, left, and his former manager Andrew 'Chubby' Chandler. McIlroy announced he is leaving Chandler's ISM on Friday morning.

Rory McIlroy, right, is joined his caddie J.P. Fitzgerald, left, and his former manager Andrew 'Chubby' Chandler. McIlroy announced he is leaving Chandler's ISM on Friday morning.

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Even for world-class, multimillionaire athletes and the people who travel with them and spend much of their lives at exotic locales, several days in Bermuda was a slice of paradise earlier this week. Leaving it to return to the “real world” was a comedown.

It was especially so for Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, whose incomparable roll in the business of sports management within golf came to a screeching halt just after leaving sun-splashed Bermuda. He was told that he no longer was representing the world’s third-ranked player, U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy.

Chandler and McIlroy, 22, who had spent eight days together on a tour of China before flying around the world to enjoy three more days in Bermuda, left the island together at the conclusion of the 36-hole Grand Slam of Golf. Once in New York, they were to go their separate ways – McIlroy to Istanbul to be with his girlfriend, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki; Chandler to Dubai.

Little did Chandler realize that they really were going to go their separate ways, because sources told Golfweek that McIlroy broke the news to the agent in New York, apparently having been unable to find the right time to do so in Bermuda.

“I was gobsmacked,” Chandler told Golfweek, when reached on holiday in Dubai, though he had little else to say. News releases from his International Sports Management would serve to offer confirmation and reaction, he said.

“We take great pride in the role ISM has played in guiding him successfully through his formative years as a professional golfer,” the company statement read.

And from the same release, a Chandler quote: “Onward and upward. We have had quite a brilliant year. The company is growing and adapting to ensure it stays at the forefront of golf and the business of managing players. We wish Rory every success.”

From McIlroy, who confirmed that he’d be joining Horizon Sports Management which is based in Dublin, Ireland: “Chubby and his team have played a very important role in my success to date. I have made great progress under their management, and for that I will always be grateful.”

On the surface, the words seem to put an amicable spin to the parting, but make no mistake: This was a stunning development, one that no one could have seen coming in Bermuda. Indeed, for three days Chandler was his gregarious self, bounding from each of the three players (and their families) he had in the exclusive field of this year’s four major winners – McIlroy, the U.S. Open champion; Charl Schwartzel, the Masters winner; and Darren Clarke, the Open Champion.

Facilitating media requests for time with his major champions and even their families was a chore Chandler handled flawlessly and in his inimitable style. On the night of the Champions’ Celebration at the elegant Fairmont Southampton, Chandler moved effortlessly from the Schwartzel table to the McIlroy table to the Clarke table, and in separate interviews, the respective fathers – George Schwartzel, Gerry McIlroy, and Godfrey Clarke – expressed gratitude for Chandler’s guidance.

In a television segment devoted to the impressive run of success that Chandler has had as a manager (his players have won four of the past six majors), McIlroy was at the forefront with his praise for the only agent he’s had in four years as a pro. As a 17-year-old, McIlroy was driving around Belfast in a 3 Series BMW, and it was easy to see from where it came. No surprise, McIlroy signed with ISM when he was 18, and the kid from Northern Ireland has been in the spotlight on both sides of the Atlantic ever since.

The McIlroy-Chandler trip to Bermuda came on the heels of a wild excursion through seven cities and eight golf courses in China. Together with Lee Westwood, another Chandler player, Ian Poulter, and Liang Wen-Chong, McIlroy heaped lavish praise on the experience. It’s unfathomable to think the whole while he knew that he’d be leaving the ISM stable.

Yet another source said that’s the case.

“This move had been coming for a while,” the source said. “There had been discussions (with Horizon) during the season.”

While McIlroy seemingly would have a natural connection to Horizon – the agency is based in Ireland, and friend and World Cup partner Graeme McDowell is in the stable – there is great irony here. McDowell left the ISM camp a few years ago, partly because he felt overlooked amid the ballyhooed arrival of McIlroy.

Golf insiders have expressed interest to see where McIlroy goes with his sponsorships.

“Horizon is pretty small compared to ISM,” the source told Golfweek. And while Conor Ridge, the agent who’ll handle McIlroy, is regarded favorably as a hard worker who strives to keep his players focused on the golf, “he doesn’t have the same status in the game as Chandler, so it remains to be seen how Rory will fare.”

McIlroy’s ultra-rich deal with Titleist was extended in September of 2010, and eventually the company’s name will be emblazoned on the player’s hat, but that was a deal brokered during his ISM days. So were sponsorships with Jumeirah Estates (presently the hat, eventually just the shirt), Oakley, Audemars Piguet, and Santander – a deal brokered a few weeks ago that runs through 2013 – so Horizon will not realize anything financially from those deals.

Reportedly, the recently-signed deal with Santander, a huge British bank, was so lucrative that even Chandler was taken aback. As a testament to just how hot a property McIlroy is, the bank president reportedly flew in to see Chandler and McIlroy – they did not travel to see him.

But the Oakley deal will end this year and the Jumeirah sponsorship is going to expire soon, too, “so it will be interesting to see what Conor and Horizon can do for Rory,” said a source who has worked on the business end with McIlroy. “Then again, maybe he wants to focus strictly on his golf and clean up the party image that players at ISM sometimes get, for right or wrong.”

That same source wondered aloud if Wozniacki, who has achieved something McIlroy desperately wants – a world No. 1 ranking – isn’t perhaps the greatest influence in his life right now, offering advice on what steps he needs to take to reach his fullest potential.

Whatever McIlroy’s reasoning, a week in paradise ended with a world-class player and his highly regarded mentor heading down divergent roads. A surprising result, to say the least. 

–Jim McCabe, Alistair Tait and Alex Miceli contributed.

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