Rory McIlroy: 'Yes, I have changed. It is all part of growing up'

The Ulsterman says splitting with his agent Chubby was toughest decision of his life but it was strictly business.

Shanghai

Golfer changes agent. So what? It should be right up there with "man changes bank", or "rock star changes dealer". Except the golfer happens to be Rory McIlroy, thus it is perceived to mean an awful lot. Here yesterday, the young Ulsterman with the world at his feet and the world at his letterbox explained how this realisation has hit him since he split with Chubby Chandler two weeks ago.

However perverse, however absurd, this was a confessional box he just had to enter. Granted, he did not spill his soul. And many did depart the huddle at the Shenshan International Golf Club with something greater than a mere submission that it had been "only a business decision, nothing personal" which caused a 22-year-old, after the year of his career, to leave the management company which has guided him since he turned pro, and yes before. But he faced up and answered the questions. At the same time as looking utterly mystified by all the fuss.

"I was surprised at how much of a big deal was made out of it, because these things happen out here all the time," said the US Open champion, after his final practice round for the HSBC WGC Champions. "It just seems that with me it's made a bigger deal. It's not that big a decision."

Of course, it was "big" in terms of what it meant to McIlroy and, even more so, what it meant to Chandler and a group overseeing the likes of Lee Westwood and three major winners. If McIlroy has the type of success all but the contrarians in the trade forecast, it will probably run into many tens of millions "big" for the Cheshire agency. No, McIlroy knew the scale of it on that score.

"It was probably the hardest decision I've ever had to make in my life," said McIlroy, who was first introduced to Chandler by Clarke when he was barely out of his first spikes. "And it's the toughest conversation to sit down with the person who has been there for you for the past 10 years. Look, I'll never forget what Chubby and ISM have done for me. They're a huge part of my career and if it wasn't for their help I wouldn't be in this position."

It was the timing which caused the biggest ripples in a sport which likes to coexist in a mill pond. McIlroy has just enjoyed his first major, and with the stock of Tiger Woods still in the sort of free fall most brokers would balk at, the noughts on his portfolio were lining up. And when he informed Chandler in an airport lounge in Bermuda, he had just spent two weeks in his company on a seven-day, seven-city exhibition in China and then four days at the Grand Slam of Golf. Chandler, a larger-than-life figure who prides himself on having his finger, if not his entire grip on the pulse, understandably felt like he had been left at the altar. However, McIlroy maintained this was not a fit of pique.

"It's not a decision I made overnight," he said. "I thought long and hard about it and I spoke to my Mum and Dad, who are 100 per cent behind any decision that I make. It really wasn't personal; it was just business."

In the aftermath, Chandler indicated that he, too, thought the reason was primarily business – essentially that McIlroy wasn't pleased with his "brand", nor with the stature of some of his sponsors. There was even the notion put forward that his burgeoning relationship with Caroline Wozniacki, the world No 1 tennis player, had turned his head to the potential of such fame. McIlroy dismissed all that with something resembling a harrumph.

"I felt like, for four years, Chubby was the best person and ISM were fantastic for me," he said. "But sometimes to progress you need to have a fresh view on things. And this was something I felt I needed. It's not about endorsements or anything like that. It's about me trying to play my best golf. And that's all there is to it. And I feel that a new environment around me would enable me to do that. I can't put a date on when I decided. I'm not saying that it has been in my mind for a few years, but I have always seen at close hand how great a job Conor [Ridge] and [McIlroy's new agency] Horizon have done for G-Mac [Graeme McDowell]. That's something that has always been in front of me."

McIlroy is not denying he has changed. But he fails to see why the cynics believe that all the success has altered him for the worse. "Of course I've changed," he said. "It's all part of growing up. I'm still only 22 – there are people my age who are still at university. I've had a lot of life experiences over the past few years. I feel like the [Unicef] trip to Haiti changed me; I feel like winning the US Open changed me. So there have been a lot of things this year that have maybe not only changed me as a person, but also changed my view on things."

The young Tiger comparison is as obvious as it is inevitable. He, too, switched managers as the spotlight intensified and he, too, was forced to accept that every minute detail of his life would be placed under the microscope. Perhaps McIlroy hasn't yet reached those levels; perhaps he never will. But it has got to the stage where he can nod at a journalist who referred to him as "the new Tiger".

"Yeah, I've been shocked at my profile," he said. "The things that go on... well, to my mind, like I said it doesn't seem like a big deal. I don't know whether it's just me. I've said a few things this year that I probably should not have. For instance, after the Open when talking about the bad weather and how I wasn't going to change my game. Some things you say in the heat of the moment, that if you actually thought about a bit, you wouldn't say. Apart from that, I just try to be honest. I always want to be that way, I don't want to be guarded and give meaningless answers. I still want to be myself."

Himself now is quite something to behold. Last night at an HSBC function he joined Wozniacki on a simulated tennis court which measured their speed of serve. This is the only time in McIlroy's life where he will be laughed at for shooting 59 against someone who scored more than 100. The mph clock made for hilarious viewing.

Yet this morning he resumed his day job, not as one half of sport's famous couple, not even as the heir to the Tiger circus. But as the boy from Belfast who has his eyes on another title. Last week he won £1.25m at the Shanghai Masters and now he attempts to win just his fifth title at this World Golf Championship extravaganza. The near £750,000 first prize would leave him £400,000 short of world No 1 Luke Donald in the European Tour Order of Merit. "I'm a long way behind Luke, but I have a chance here to cut into his lead," he said. "That's all I'm concentrating on." If only it was so simple.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own