With a growing stable of stars, Chubby Chandler is the hottest agent abroad
If you walk into a clubhouse lounge at any of your better golf tournaments these days, anywhere in the world, there's a chance you're going to smell the player agent Andrew (Chubby) Chandler. Chandler is partial to a cologne called Jo Malone, which he slaps on, Chandler says in his particular and broad accent, "about three times the usual dose." Salesmeneven an Englishman selling rare golf talentoften find it useful to stand out, or at least that's how Chandler feels about it.
Chandler, 58, from Bolton, England, is selling an excellent line. He's the founder and managing director of a company called International Sports Management (ISM), which represents the South African Ernie Els, the Englishman Lee Westwood, the Irishman Rory McIlroy, the Indian Jeev Milka Singh, the Californian Christina Kim and a bunch of others you've heard of or most likely will. The company, with 30 employees, represents about 40 golfers, 25 soccer players, 10 cricketers and one Paralympic swimmer.
ISM is international, all right. IMGInternationalÂ Management Groupis too. But Chandler is not using IMG as a model for ISM, and the two global companies could not be more different. IMG, based in Cleveland, is a monolith with hundreds of employees, a vast reach and no face. Chubby's cologne is on the contract of every endorsement deal he negotiates, and he doesn't want it any other way. As for his players, they have no contract with him.
Curiously, that's a practice Chandler picked up from the founder of IMG, Mark McCormack, who had a handshake deal with his first client, Arnold Palmer. In 1989 Chandler was winding down his 15-year, one-win career as a player on the European tour and looking to become an agent. He had a reputation for knowing the hotels in greater Madrid that actually welcomed players. Irishman Darren Clarke, then a promising young golfer, similar to Chandler in meaningful ways, became Chandler's first client.
"What'll we do for a contract?" Clarke asked.
Chandler explained the McCormackÂPalmer handshake.
"Then we'll do that," Clarke said.
Pretty much everyone who has followed Clarke into Chandler's fold since then has done the same. Westwood had a contract for a time, but he didn't like how it felt and had it torn up.
As late as 2007, Chandler managed Graeme ÂMcDowell, last year's U.S. Open winner and Ryder Cup star. "The one who got away," Chandler says. "We weren't giving him the attention he needed. I learned something there. Won't be making that mistake again." A candid man in the golf bizhow refreshing! Is there some way to propagate him?
The business side of golf has become maddeningly bureaucratic and impersonal. At a press conference in February, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, a high priest of control, would not even say how he feels about the issue of spitting on the golf course. (Chubby says it's "unacceptable.") Watching Tiger Woods interviews while blending a daiquiri, you wouldn't know if Tiger's talking about breaking up with his putter or his wife. (Chubby believes that Woods's "mind is not there, not focused on the golf.") Chandler's whole manner reminds you that modern tournament golf was made by men who dared to be different: McCormack, Frank Chirkinian, Clifford Roberts, Deane Beman, Pete Dye. (Check out their Hall of Fame bios if you don't know those names.) Chubby at least comes out of that tradition. He's an original.
You'd pick him out of a lineup. At Doral last month Chandler was wearing a bluish-beige Egyptian cotton button-front shirt made for him at a Korean golf tournament; brown, checked wool trousers made for him at a Tour event in New Jersey; and black loafers he bought in a proper English shoe store. He's not a dandy. It's just that with his build, prÃªt-Ã -porter is not ideal. Plus, the custom-made clothes are a little reward to himself: I've done well.
With his prosperous waist, his sloping forehead, his bronzed skin and closely cropped graying beard, Chandler looks a sultan from the Ottoman Empire, and there are Turks in his ancestry. But he's a Briton to the bone and proud of it, and he's taking some heat for not persuading McIlroy and Westwood to play in the Players Championship next month. "It's the fifth MAY-ja only in America," Chandler counters.
Chandler has what's known in England as a Bolton accent, which turns major into MAY-ja and running shoes into TRAY-nors. As for the four real majors, Chandler wouldn't be surprised to see an American win only one of them. He'll have five players at the Masters: Els, McIlroy, Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel. For part of the week Chandler will be on the course, following his players up and down the hills of Augusta National. For more of the week he'll park himself with his ISM cronies at a choice clubhouse table, looking for all the world like Tony Soprano hanging with his homeys.
In the clubhouse at Doral a few weeks ago Westwood and Chandler and a dozen others in the Chubby Chandler Circle of Fun watched Premiere League football for hours on end. (The week before Doral, at Honda, in the lobby at the PGA National Resort and Spa, they did the same thing. Ditto for the week before that, in the grill room at Dove Mountain at the Match Play Championship.)
Eventually the soccer ended and the horse racing came on. Some left, but Chandler and Westwood did not. Westwood mentioned several ponies by name and the jockeys slated to be on them. He sounded like a man who knows his way around a paddock. Chandler offered a correction. "He knows absolutely nothing about horse racing, and neither do I, but that doesn't stop us." At home they go to the track together once a year or so to bet the nags and enjoy lukewarm lagers and each other's company.
Last year at the British Open at St. Andrews, Chandler had a trifecta: Oosthuizen won, Westwood placed and McIlroy tied for show. Chandler was not yet representing Els when he won his most recent Grand Slam event, the '02 Open, so Oosthuizen's victory at the home of golf was the first time one of Chandler's players had won a MAY-ja. The winner and his agent and the rest of the traveling party celebrated at the Jigger Inn, a pitch shot from the 17th tee. Chandler had rented the ancient golfers pub for the week, and anybody on the extended team ISMplayers, wives, girlfriends, caddies, "physios," parents, swing coachescould eat and drink there all week without ever reaching for his or her wallet. To get in, you had to know the password, which changed daily.
"That was last night."
"Come on in."
Zack Rasego, Oosthuizen's black South African caddie, hung out at the Jigger Inn on the Sunday night after the win. "Oh, it was a beautiful thing," Rasego says, recalling the night with a crooked smile. British Open Sunday happened to fall on Nelson Mandela's birthday and at the time when the World Cup was being played in South Africa. As Oosthuizen was marching back into town with a commanding lead, Chandler got the idea that mentioning Mandela might be a good thing for Oosthuizen to do in his victory remarks. He called Johann Rupert, a South African businessman well-traveled in golf, soccer and South African politics, seeking advice. (Chandler isn't afraid to seek advice and does so often.) Rupert endorsed the idea. On that basis Chandler wrote out some talking points for Oosthuizen. At the awards ceremony, claret jug in hand, the first thing Oosthuizen did was wish "Mr. Nelson Mandela" a happy 92nd birthday. Rasego beamed. Chandler, wandering the links that night on his way to the Jigger Inn, looked deeply satisfied. He said later, "The reward in my job is not always the obvious reward."?
You want to know the one golf person Chandler most brings to mind? It's McCormack as a young man, when he represented Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, when IMG had a face and McCormack was it. Like McCormack, Chandler has formed deeply personal attachments with his players. Three quarters of the ISM golfers have been with Chandler since they turned pro. He manages the golfers' families too. Chandler is as close to McIlroy's parents as he is to McIlroy. Rory never considered another agent.
Chandler wouldn't know how to make a power-point presentation, but he's fluent in the language of tournament golf. When Seve Ballesteros's old caddie, Billy Foster, went to work for Clarke, Clarke said to Chandler, "Do you think he'll be looking for a better bag?" Chandler said, "If you play well, he won't." Chandler bonds with his players over golf and over the foibles of life. He and Clarke have been through weddings, death, childbirth and life's other events together. They talk daily.
In 2002, at the British Open at Muirfield, Chandler received one of his greatest honors. McCormack invited him to the rented IMG palace for lunch. The two compared notes. McCormack never mentioned anything about trying to buy ISM from Chandler. He knew Chandler had no interest in selling. He knew Chandler, like McCormack himself, was not motivated by money, not foremost, but by a desire to be in the game. Ten months after their lunch, McCormack died.
For status, Chubby says STAY-tus. McCorÂmack conferred STAY-tus on Chubby that day. For camaraderie, Chubby says CAME-eh-RAY-der-ee. Chubby's job gives him camaraderie every day he works it, and that's pretty much every day. Really, there's no line between where Chandler's work life ends and his private life begins, which is why his players choose not to have contracts with him and why he can sit at a clubhouse table with his boys all day and never get itchy to do something else. What else would he do?