SHANGHAI – Rory McIlroy broke his silence here Wednesday regarding his breakup with agent Chubby Chandler, but left unanswered the big question: Why?
McIlroy, the reigning U.S. Open champion, stunned the golf world two weeks ago when he told his agent in a five-minute conversation between planes en route from Bermuda that he was leaving the gregarious Chandler and his International Sports Management group after four years. McIlroy has signed with Conor Ridge and Horizon Sports Management.
McIlroy said Wednesday before the WGC-HSBC Champions here that he had been thinking about a move for some time and seeking counsel from his parents and others close to him.
“It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life,” said McIlroy, 22, of Northern Ireland. “I knew it was coming, so I had time to mull over it. It’s the toughest conversation to sit down with the person that’s been there for you over the past 10 years and tell them that I just want to change things up a bit.”
McIlroy had expressed some off-course concerns with Chandler, such things as his website, public relations, development of his brand and the profile of his sponsors. Chandler says he was addressing those concerns, though clearly not fast enough for McIlroy.
“It’s hard to put a date on it,” McIlroy said of when he started to look outside of Chandler’s ISM camp. “I think all of these things cross golfers’ minds at different points in the season. I saw close-hand at what a great job Conor and Horizon have done for G-Mac (countryman Graeme McDowell) over the past few years. It’s something that’s always been there and always been in front of me. I’m not saying that it’s been on my mind for a few years, but it’s always been there.”
Ridge’s Horizon Sports Management came on the scene globally two years ago with the signing of McDowell. Now, with the addition of McIlroy, the boutique firm is gaining attention. What McDowell and McIlroy find appealing – Horizon’s small size – should not change according to Ridge, with no plans to expand beyond the six players under contract.
It’s possible that the agency’s small size is what attracted McIlroy to Ridge’s group. ISM and patriarch Chandler were receiving more attention, which included the so-called Chubby Slam when Open Championship winner Darren Clarke joined Masters champ Charl Schwartzel and McIlroy, all ISM clients.
“It doesn’t help,” Chandler said from Dubai, just after the breakup, about the focus he received. “I didn’t want it, but the media just kept on bringing it up.”
When McDowell left ISM for Horizon two years ago, he also reportedly wasn’t getting enough attention. Chandler’s stable of stars included Lee Westwood, Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen, plus an up-and-coming McIlroy.
McIlroy reached a similar crossroads.
“You look at the players that Chubby had, the likes of Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke; they are global stars, as well,” McIlroy said. “All I want to do is concentrate on golf and win golf tournaments. I feel up until this point, I haven’t won enough, and I feel like I just needed to make a few decisions to change that, and that was one of the things that I decided to do.”
Ridge and Chandler met late last week on the transition and met again Tuesday to work through the particulars. Ridge called the discussions friendly and amicable.
Since their parting two weeks ago in New York, Chandler and McIlroy had not met until Tuesday on the driving range here at Sheshan International Golf Club, where Chandler approached McIlroy and congratulated him on his victory last week in the Shanghai Masters. It was a brief conversation, but both men say their relationship is friendly.
So now the next chapter for McIlroy is being authored, and it started with a tournament title. Where it goes from here is up to McIlroy and Ridge, but at just 22, McIlroy like a young Tiger Woods is growing up in front of our eyes and everyone seems to be watching.
“I’ve changed,” McIlroy said of the past year or so. “There’s people my age that are still at university, so I’ve had a lot of life experiences over the past year. So of course you’re going to change from that. I feel like the (humanitarian) trip to Haiti changed me. I feel like winning the U.S. Open changed me. So there’s been a lot of things this year that I feel like have changed my view. Maybe not changed me as a person, but maybe just changed my view on things.”