Tuesday, 5 April 2016

McIlroy Misreads Eighteenth Green

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Former NBA super star Charles Barkley commented some years ago that all true competitors are noteworthy for their thin skin, lack of nuance, and inability to take an objective view on what went wrong in hindsight. Now a TV pundit Barkley was referring to his once friend Michael Jordan owner of the Charlotte Bobcats’ during their 2010 run to a first-round sweep in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Where in his view the Bobcats could have done many things better and chose to speak his mind. Costing him their friendship.

The same analysis possibly has merit with Rory McIlroy who chose in recent days to air the breakdown in the relationship with his management company. A battle that came before the courts in Ireland and proved a pointless drama it has to be said. Even if few have billed it as such.

Although not the first mega sports star to have a money issue with an agent, McIlroy chose to take this fight to the eighteenth green and increase the risk of losing more than he planned. A good game plan perhaps on the golf course in matchplay where final leaderboard placings matter little in the final analysis of any tournament. Once the shot striking is good and the give and take of a few hundred thousand dollars here and there. However in a business environment any lack of shrewdness or nous can be prove costly.

As the anniversary of that most bizarre of moments at the Honda Classic in Florida is upon us, it serves as a reminder that the golfing genius that is McIlroy inside the ropes, is still only a twenty something year old in the real world. The events in Dublin highlighting that both in his demeanour on arrival to court whistling loudly. Or more so in his hasty departure from Ireland by private jet when faced with defeat. Clearly unable to accept publicly at least, his costly miscalculation. 

Indeed it is hard to recall any sports star that has gone the distance in such a manner and increasing the stakes unnecessarily to such a degree. Despite the best advices of the sitting judge, Justice Cregan over the past year.

History shows that Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Roger Federer, Joe Montana, David Beckham, Maria Sharapova, Rafa Nadal would have pushed matters so publicly. Or allow themselves become part of what could only described as potential car crash television. For McIlroy to also confront things in the land where his golf was nurtured and developed, and against a home grown Dublin company, was unwise to say the least. A direct contrast to Tiger Woods who has managed most disputes quietly, with toughness and no public scrutiny. 

In fact Woods private life only became public after a domestic dispute over Thanksgiving weekend in 2009. It was only then we learned of the hectic nature of his life outside the ropes which was almost incredulous, given the public image created over a decade. An event that was unmanageable for the army of PR companies and hence unwanted details were foisted on the public. Both golfing and non-golfing alike. 

The only other major golf headliner prior to that being The Wild Thing, John Daly. A man who saw his personal life decombust in public view as a result of gambling and alcohol addiction. All of which he has since admittedly publicly in books on his life. For McIlroy there is a no defensible case for the brinkmanship around the fallout with Horizon Sports. After all when is a contract not a contract no matter the circumstances. As is a marriage - be it good or bad. 

Walking away is always possible but based either on mutual agreement or through a negotiated settlement. It seems that a winning focus on the course may have blinkered McIlroy’s understanding of the real world. Where feeling or belief do not hold the same value where commercial decisions are needed. Very unlike choosing a five or six iron on a lush green fairway. In time McIlroy will no doubt reflect on the wisdom of his strategy, and that his impulsive or focused nature may need some dilution. Or his pursuit of a winning goal is not always right.

History shows this is not the first breakup with a management company as he left the stable of Andrew “Chubby” Chandler not long after winning the US Open in 2011. The split coming after five years with International Sports Management company whom he joined after turning professional in 2007 having played the Walker Cup in Royal County Down.

At the time a spokesman for ISM politely said "There has been no falling out, it is amicable. He is joining his great friend Graeme McDowell at Horizon." And Chandler himself saying “We have had a brilliant year. Rory has grown and he leaves us as a major champion." 

In fact he had just become the youngest winner of the US Open since Bobby Jones in 1923 and capped a remarkable four year period period by reaching number three in the world. But as McIlroy followed his close friend McDowell, who had also switched from ISM to the Horizon Sports, Chandler was no doubt left wondering about the value of hand shake deals.
Reflective of Chandler’s own personality and experience perhaps. Where he would rather retain a friendship than battle through courts. 

There may have been less at stake financially with sponsors than this time around. Where the Nike sponsorship deal makes McIlroy extremely wealthy every year without even hitting a golf club. A deal that Horizon Sports nurtured as part of their engagement plan for the Holywood golfer. Hence the commissions over the ten year duration of the deal are very material. Whether front loaded or payable over the life time of the deal. So believing he could just walk away, without serious penalty, was more than naive from McIlroy. It was unrealistic, impracticable and sheer nonsense

But then that is why sports stars have entourages and advisers to help make balanced decisions. Also ensuring that off course hiccups are minimised. 

In the case of five time major winner he is now into his third management set-up in the form of Rory McIlroy Inc Created in 2014 to handle all his business interests. It will be led by Donal Casey, an Irish businessman who worked for Horizon Sports as its director of strategy. and Barry Funston. The latter a long-time family friend, who will run The Rory Foundation. Casey and Funston will sit on the Rory McIlroy Inc. board along with Gerry McIlroy, the golfer's father.

McIlroy has now followed Adam Scott, who set up his own company headed by his father, Phil, with a small group around him. 

"Management is a funny thing, and when things are maybe not going 100 percent on the golf course, it's natural to question everything you are doing from relationships, business and just everything you do," McDowell once said. 

"Sometimes we decide to make choices and decisions, and take new paths that we perhaps feel like for the bigger picture will help us improve and get better. 

The split from Chandler was done on flight home from Bermuda  after the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in 2011. McIlroy said at the time it was the "hardest decision I've ever had to make in my life." But he shared no details on why he needed to change. 

Later that year on joining Conor Ridge McIroy said "Sometimes to go forward in your career, you need to make a decision," 

"I thought it was a decision I needed to make. I felt like for four years, Chubby was the best guy. But sometimes to progress you need to have a different view and a fresh view of things. It's about me trying to play my best golf. That's all there is to it. With a new environment around me, it might enable me to play even better." 

Last week in Dublin after the case was settled a short statement was issued significant for its lack of comments or details. Just stating agreement had been reached by both parties and no further comments were to be made. Somewhat bizarre therefore to read in The Antigua Daily Observer that the out of court settlement was about twenty million dollars and costs in favour of Horizon Sports. Proving there is no fairy-tale endings even for sporting superstars. 

With a reported net worth of $60m and that Nike deal at least seven years to run and the chance of major prize money at The Masters, the US Open and Open Championship - particularly as Tiger Woods faces his diminishing powers - Rory should fill that financial setback quite quickly. 

What exactly Conor Ridge does next is another question. His record has proven that he understands the fine art of sports management with Shane Lowry now in the world Top Fifty.

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