Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Rory McIlroy shows ruthless streak as he leaves Chubby in cold

Rory McIlroy

Anyone who ever doubted that Rory McIlroy is his own man knows differently now. In a move which stunned the world of golf, the prodigious young Ulsterman dropped his manager, Chubby Chandler, to join his compatriot Graeme McDowell at a smaller agency.

The US Open champion broke the news to Chandler, the founder and managing director of International Sports Management, immediately after this week's Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda. To say Chandler was surprised is an understatement.

The affable Boltonian famously does not sign contracts, but a source yesterday said that Chandler had been busily assembling McIlroy's own "board of directors" to keep tabs on his sponsorship deals and career plan.

McIlroy, 22, had personally chosen Dermot Desmond, the Irish financier who is the majority shareholder of Celtic, as the chairman and having recently been unveiled as the new face of the Spanish bank Santander everything appeared rosy.

McIlroy and Chandler have enjoyed a very close relationship, since even before he turned pro in 2007. Growing up, McIlroy saw Darren Clarke as a mentor and Chandler, as Clarke's manager, was soon enlisted to help nurture the outrageous talent.

More recently, Stuart Cage, the former European Tour professional, has been McIlroy's main ISM handler, although Cage is not expected to join the world No 3 at Horizon Sports. McIlroy and Cage formed a very strong bond.

The suspicion must be that something - or somebody - has turned McIlroy's head.

It is understood that McIlroy believed Chandler had too many top names on his roster. They include the world No 2, Lee Westwood, the Open champion, Darren Clarke, and the South African major winners, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen.

McIlroy thought more could be made of his "brand", and hence increase his revenue supply.

Sources insist that, in this regard, the influence of Caroline Wozniacki should not be downplayed. The world No 1 tennis player has been McIlroy's girlfriend since he split with his childhood sweetheart, Holly Sweeney, following his record major breakthrough at Congressional in June.

Since linking up with the Dane, McIlroy has completed a U-Turn in rejoining the PGA Tour and looking for a residence in Florida.

In joining Horizon, the Dublin-based agency run by Conor Ridge, McIlroy is linking up with his great friend McDowell, as well as many other Irish professionals.

Ironically McDowell was also an ISM client until leaving after Chandler officially signed McIlroy. A few years later, McDowell won the US Open.

Observers have noted Ridge's burgeoning friendship with McIlroy, although it was only idle gossip which envisaged such a union. Apparently, talks were going on behind the scenes.

It can't be disguised as anything other than a huge blow to ISM, after an incredible year in which their players won three majors.

ISM also parted company with Ernie Els last month, yet that was not entirely unexpected. This was.

However, as is the way with golf, relationships will remain cordial.

"We wish Rory every success," Chandler said in a statement. "It has been an honour representing Rory and we take great pride in the role ISM has played in guiding him successfully through his formative years as a professional golfer."

Meanwhile, McIlroy, who is holidaying with Wozniacki in Indonesia also released a statement through his new PR team.

"Chubby and his team have played a very important role in my success to date," he said.

"I am now keen to move on to the next stage of my career and I feel this will be facilitated by a fresh view and a new structure around me."

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