Rory McIlroy announced his emergence in the United States in a big way last year, making the cut on the number at the Quail Hollow Championship, then posting scores of 66-62 on the weekend to easily claim his first PGA Tour title.
It was the type of victory that vaults a young up-and-comer into the game’s upper echelon and into the mainstream consciousness of most casual observers. Instead, the Northern Ireland native curiously celebrated by rescinding his PGA Tour membership at season’s end and followed by eschewing the circuit’s flagship event – The Players Championship – arguing at the time that he finds the TPC-Sawgrass host course “awkward.”
That may be true, but it was a move due in no small part to the recommendation of agent Chubby Chandler, a former European Tour member who remains extremely Euro-centric while strategizing when and where his stable of players should compete.
In the time since, McIlroy has not only announced his intentions to take up PGA Tour membership once again in 2012, but has maintained that he is seeking a Florida-based home at which he would spend at least part of his time during the season. It isn’t hard to envision him playing a schedule that more resembles that of Luke Donald or Graeme McDowell, fellow world travelers who spend more time in the U.S. than abroad.
With the news on Friday that McIlroy has decided to split from Chandler and his International Sports Management agency, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that not only was the U.S. Open champion less than enthralled with his agent’s belief system, he may have grown weary of being used as a pawn in Chandler’s constant jingoism toward everything European.
McIlroy follows in the footsteps of Ernie Els, who left ISM earlier this year, and industry insiders say the exodus could continue with other big-name clients switching allegiances soon, as well.
While amplified devotion toward the Euro circuit may be a main factor in the decision-making process of these players, other theories also abound.
One is that Chandler has simply spread himself too thin, with a 26-player stable of clients that includes major champions Charl Schwartzel and Darren Clarke, as well as second-ranked Lee Westwood. Elite players may not require special coddling, but many do request the special attention that an agency with such a broad client list may not be able to afford.
Another is that McIlroy may not have enjoyed the self-promotion that always seems to follow the ubiquitous Chandler. After Schwartzel, McIlroy and Clarke won the first three legs of this year’s major championship circuit, the so-called Chubby Slam became prominent phrasing in advance of the PGA Championship.
Whatever the case – and as of the time of this writing, McIlroy hadn’t commented on what prompted the split – the world’s third-ranked player will now be affiliated with Dublin-based Horizon Sports Management, the same agency that has represented his friend McDowell for many years.
It remains to be seen what sort of scheduling appearances and endorsement opportunities the agency will seek for McIlroy, but his representatives won’t be short on possibilities. Considering the current personal and professional demise of Tiger Woods, the 22-year-old may very well be the game’s most globally marketable player right now – a situation which should only be enhanced by increased play on the U.S. tour.
That should be the most pertinent information going forward in the wake of this recent news. While his business relationships may change and his schedule will be altered, McIlroy continues to be one of the game’s biggest drawing cards and should only see his star shine brighter with increasingly strong results.