How the Jerry Maguire of golf became a major player
Super-agent Chubby Chandler has the Open and Masters champions in his stable and it's the 'family' feel and attention to detail that keeps them happy, he tells James Corrigan
Saturday 11 June 2011
He walked into Augusta with Rory McIlroy, the leader by four shorts, and walked out with Charl Schwartzel, the winner by two shots. Yes, it was all too easy to watch that dramatic Sunday at the Masters two months ago and make the comparison between Andrew "Chubby" Chandler and Don King.
"But that's how it was," laughs Chandler, when you put to him the infamous night in 1973 when King stepped into the arena with the old heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, before stepping out with the new one, George Foreman. Except, of course, it wasn't anything like that. Chandler has overseen the careers of McIlroy and Schwartzel since they both turned pro and was merely undertaking his duties. There was no question of any switch of allegiance. Just an agent juggling the balls.
Chandler has been mastering the trick since 1989, when he finally gave up on a playing career which brought one title (in Brazil) in 15 years. In the 22 years thereafter, he has won hundreds of titles as the founder and managing director of International Sports Management and happens to be going into next week's US Open looking to make it three majors from the last four. As well as Schwartzel and the Open champion in Louis Oosthuizen, Chandler will also have the world No 2 in Lee Westwood, the player who last won a US Open at Congressional in Ernie Els and in McIlroy, the one they all want to analyse. Don King, himself, would stay loyal to that stable.
It is wrong to say that this 58-year-old cannot believe his luck. He can, but it is prone to make his moonface beam. "It doesn't seem that long ago where majors were a bit of a chore," he says, in his thick Bolton accent. "Our lads were finishing 20th, 30th but never getting in there. It was hard work. It even got to the point of me thinking, 'I'm not going to the US Open', although I always did. But now, we turn up and we've got live chances everywhere. I mean, it's incredible. Sometimes I don't know where to look."
How about back to when it all began. In 1989, Chandler decided enough was enough. "People now tell me I was a good player," he says. "My best year was 1986 when I finished 44th on the Order of Merit. It's funny, my first-ever tournament on the European Tour, was also Seve's [Ballesteros] – the Italian Open in 1974. From that moment on our careers went vertically opposite. How did I make a living? Through sponsorship. The first golfer I had to sell was myself. I always had little deals going on. But I was a lunatic. I'd play practice rounds with people like Greg Norman for £50. My bravado was way ahead of my ability. Looking back I wish I'd had me as I am now managing me. I would have got my head around the fact that this was a job and to be a lot more disciplined. I would have got another 20 per cent out of myself, which is a lot. I would have really made it as a player."
Instead, it really made him as a manager. On quitting, he registered ISM as a company, had business cards printed up and sought business around the range telling his former colleagues and friends he would take 25 per cent of whatever sponsorship he brought in. From starting from four players, this son of a travelling salesman was soon up to 15. But the numbers were small. Perilously small. "We didn't make any money until about 1992," he says. "I had to see the bank manager regularly. It was bizarre. I paid £5,000 rent, paid £8,000 to my PA, and only had a £10,000 overdraft. To be honest, I was probably on the golf course too much and playing cards too much. But as you go along it becomes more of a job. Darren had a lot to do with that. When I first played with him I thought, 'We've got a future here'."
Darren is Darren Clarke, the Ulsterman who, thanks to the recommendation of an Irish pal, Chandler began to manage in 1992. It had only been sponsorship before, but now ISM oversaw everything in Clarke's career – finance, schedule, travel, sponsorship, everything. No contract was drawn up; just like Arnold Palmer and Mark McCormack the deal was sealed on a handshake. In Chandler's mind that signifies the personal touch which he believes helps ISM stand out in the corporate greyness of sports management. That and the fact that he employs his former players as player-managers.
As Clarke collected the "Ws" so the clients came knocking. Others wanted what this pair had, what Chandler now describes as "the family". It was like that scene in Jerry Maguire when Cuba Gooding Jnr's wide-receiver character hugs Tom Cruise in the tunnel with all the other emotionless agent's looking on uncomfortably. In the mid 90s, Westwood shook hands to multiply the ISM title count. Now, two decades on, ISM – a multi-million pound business Chandler has sold and bought back twice – has more than 40 golfers as well as an impressive cricketing portfolio which has included the likes of Andrew Flintoff, Michael Vaughan, Steve Harmison and Muttiah Muralitharan. Football is surely the next step?
"Yeah, we're doing a bit," says Chandler. "But football agents have a bad name and I won't let that happen to us. Football agents have taken too much, haven't they? And it's all been written on the back of a fag packet with little support. Another thing is some of the fathers are on the take. I mean I've never had a father [of a golfer] want to get involved in a deal. But you go and meet a footballer and go through all the bits and pieces and then the father says, 'And now, of course, I have to be your consultant'. Dad's on a percentage as well. No, we have to be very wary we don't tarnish ourselves."
Chandler is wise to be cautious. He is big business, both in finance and profile. Recently Sports Illustrated ran a profile on the man they called "the hottest agent abroad". The American magazine doubtless meant it as a compliment, but with the decline of Tiger Woods continuing apace and with Europe beating the US 6-4 in the world's top 10, the "abroad" is surely unnecessary.
Chandler won't be dragged into his ever-growing influence on the professional fairways, shrugging off the question with a, "I'm just very good at winging it." But he does bite when reminded of the accusations which flew in his direction at last month's Players Championship at Sawgrass. Westwood and McIlroy declined to play in what certain Americans insist on labelling "the fifth major" and, in the rage of what the US commentator Johnny Miller called "an affront to this tournament", the agent was blamed for persuading his superstars to stay away "to make a point".
"I knew I'd get abuse, that's why I went to Sawgrass – to be shot at," he says. "The established American journalists accepted that Rory didn't like the course and that Lee couldn't play because of scheduling and PGA Tour membership restrictions. But then, you get golfing legends like Brandel Chamblee – who probably only played in the Open, nowhere else – going on TV, vociferously stirring it up and Johnny Miller jumping on the bandwagon. Miller hasn't got a clue. He's waiting for Europeans like Lee to say, 'Thank you America'. Well, if you break down how much money Lee's won in America then it's about 15 per cent. So he doesn't have anything to thank America for.
"To paint me as someone who can manipulate what's going on, just to make a point, and that Lee Westwood is going to listen to me if its not for the betterment of Lee Westwood, is absurd. What they've probably done is damage it even more by the lads thinking I don't want to go back to the TPC because I'm not that bloody popular there."
Point made, although perhaps not taken. Not that Chandler is bothered. Like many, he sees America's stranglehold on the game weakening as golf rises in the east. But the US still boasts three of the four majors and that's where the biggest buzz remains. The last major, however, gave Chandler rather more than that.
"I've learnt over 22 years not to be too emotional about it," he says. "I don't get that up so I don't have that far to get down. Because suddenly you take your eye off it and one of our other lads is winning. I was OK, but Stuart [Cage, McIlroy's player-manager] was heartbroken. I grew up doing this because Lee and Darren used to fight it out. If there was a sudden death play-off between them instead of saying, 'Hey, I've won whatever', I'd be thinking, 'I'm in the crap here when one of them loses'. But you learn to cope, learn to say the right thing.
"That night I went to see Rory and said, 'Well at least I now know what to do when you win the Masters next year'. There's nothing else I could have said in that situation which would have made any sense at all. Later we could look at it objectively. I always stress the positives and one thing I learnt when Lee had his slump a few years ago is not to go looking everywhere for answers."
McIlroy could be Chandler's Nijinsky. He knows it, the world knew it, as soon as the hands were shaken four years ago. "It's a massive responsibility, massive," he says. "Never mind the money side of it and maximising his earnings, you don't want to burn him out. Rory's the first guy I've ever looked after that I've thought, 'You could actually kill him [as a player], you could actually have him hating the game by the age of 25'. That's why at the age of 22 he's only playing 23, 24 tournaments a year. Rory's fine and, don't forget, I had low moments with Darren. He had a few self-destruct moments. Rory's still got lots to learn and there's going to be periods when he has to learn it. He's just been through one of those. There's probably not been as much fire in there as there should have been, but that's quite natural. Come the US Open you'll see him firing."
There may be a puff or two coming from Chandler's nostrils as well. Certainly when arriving at the US Open this year he will cut a much more content figure than leaving it last year. At that stage, despite all of Westwood's success, all of Clarke's success, all of Els's latter-day success, Chandler was still majorless and had just seen Graeme McDowell become the first European in 40 years to win golf's toughest major. McDowell had left ISM less than three years before.
"He was the one that got away; we weren't giving him the attention he needed; that's a lesson I learnt; we won't be making that mistake again," is the way Chandler explains it. "Listen, we've had one person leave us like that in however many years and fair play to Graeme there's no bad blood, we remain good friends and I was dead chuffed for him. But for three weeks after the US Open I was thinking, 'That's unbelievable, how's that happened'. Then we had 1-2-3 at the Open with Louis winning, then Lee got to No 1, then Charl won the Masters. I'm doing all right."
Chandler's Chances: How chubby rates his charges' hopes for the us open
"I don't believe it will happen but if Lee did finish his career without a major I'd be really disappointed for him – simply because he has worked so hard. Nobody has beaten Lee over 72 holes since the Masters and I think he has rediscovered the way he used to win. And when you put this with the way he plays now, it could be truly scary."
"Charl has always been as driven as he is talented and I would be amazed if he didn't win more majors – as many as Ernie Els, if not more. I knew when he had that uphill putt on the 16th at the Masters that he would win because once he is in there he doesn't let up. Louis Oosthuizen's victory in the Open inspired him and I think his own major win will give him so much impetus."
"He will be fired up for Congressionaland his top-five finish at the Memorial last week was great preparation. The majors certainly seem to bring outthe best in Rory McIlroy. He thrives when the spotlight is on him, so Iwould not be too worried about any hangover from the Masters. He is still learning but has more than enoughright now."
"He didn't have much luck after his Open Championship victory at St Andrews. He fell down a pothole and was out for four weeks and that's the last thing you want when you're riding the wave of confidence. He also had to acclimatise to America and had an eye infection. But don't forget Louis. He showed at The Old Course how much class he has."
"He won the US Open the last time it was played at Congressional and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he is inspired by his return to the scene of his 1997 glory. He proved he still has it when winning back-to-back last year and nobody should write off the big man; not with the amount of talent he has. If he can get the putter going it could be very interesting."
Winners everywhere you look: Members of chubby's stable (past and present)
Lee Westwood - World No 2 is Mr Consistent in the majors, finishing second in the US Masters and the Open, as well as producing his usual Ryder Cup heroics
Darren Clarke - Charismatic Ulsterman who always delivered in the Ryder Cup
Rory McIlroy - Brilliant young golfer who will surely break his major duck soon
Ernie Els - Winner of the US Open in 1994 and 1997, and the 2002 Open before he joined Chubby. And under Chandler won back-to-back titles last year
Louis Oosthuizen - Surprise winner of last year's Open when a red dot on his glove helped him to succeed
Charl Schwartzel - South African birdied last four holes to win this year's Masters
Michael Vaughan - Captain of the 2005 Ashes winners
Muttiah Muralitharan - Mesmerising Sri Lankan who captured 800 Test wickets
Steve Harmison Ranked the world's best bowler after demolition of West Indies
Andrew Flintoff - Entered folklore with man-of-series display in 2005 Ashes.
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