Chubby Chandler has become the most powerful agent in golf

Chubby Chandler has become the most powerful agent in golf

Chandler's stable includes Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke.
Angus Murray

In mid-October, days after this story went to press in the print edition of this issue of Golf Magazine, McIlroy severed ties with Chandler and International Sports Management to sign with Dublin-based Horizon Sports Management. (Horizon is best known for representing McIlroy’s close friend and countryman, Graeme McDowell.) Chandler said he was blindsided by his dismissal, which McIlroy delivered in a lounge at New York’s JFK International Airport. According to Chandler, McIlroy said he was unhappy with his brand, his image and his sponsors. Chandler speculated that the 22-year-old also might have been put off by Chandler’s growing celebrity. According to the British newspaper, The Telegraph, ISM will continue to collect commission on McIlroy’s existing sponsorships until 2015. Lee Westwood, McIlroy’s former ISM stablemate, reacted to McIlroy’s defection with a Twitter post: “Bizarre decision!” McIlroy, a frequent Twitter user, has stopped following the Twitter accounts of both Westwood and Chandler.

Andrew “Chubby” Chandler bets on his players. Not huge amounts. And not regularly. Just a modest punt here and there when he has a hankering or a hunch. It’s perfectly legal in his native England, and, as he sees it, perfectly ethical, too. “One thing I never do is gamble against my players,” says Chandler, whose agency, International Sports Management, handles the affairs of more than 50 professional golfers, including four of the last six major winners. “Especially,” he adds with a sly grin, “if I know one of them’s got a stomachache. That could get me in trouble.” In June, the 58-year-old wagered £100 that his star client, Rory McIlroy, would card the lowest score during the first round of the U.S. Open at Congressional.

When McIlroy hung up a 65, the best score that day by three strokes, Chandler pocketed a cool £2,200. “My information was the same as everyone else’s,” Chandler says, pointing out that McIlroy is historically a fast starter who held the first-round lead in two of the previous three majors. “He was an obvious choice at 22-1.”

That payday was a pittance compared with some of Chandler’s other winnings. In 1998, he bet £100 that two of his charges, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, would finish first and second, in either order, at a tournament in Japan. When his boys obliged—Westwood won, Clarke finished second—Chandler collected £7,500. His biggest haul came three years ago during the third round of the Scottish Open when he placed an exotic parlay that required him to pick which of two players would post a lower score in eight head-to-head matchups. Chandler chose Ernie Els in one of those duels, and when the Big Easy fell four strokes behind after nine holes, Chandler lost interest, assuming his bet was a bust. It wasn’t until the next time he logged on to his gaming account that he learned Els had stormed back to win his match. “Suddenly there was a big number there,” Chandler recalls of his balance. He was £30,000 richer.

Chandler's nose for forecasting — did we mention he co-owns a racehorse with Westwood? — has made him a bit of a legend in European gambling circles. Paddy Power, the Irish bookmaker, recruits Chandler to dispense advice on its website. William Hill, another bookie, offered 3-1 odds that a Chandler-managed player would win the PGA Championship in August. (“That tells you how much we respect him,” says Hill spokesman Graeme Sharpe.) And at this year’s British Open, as is the case at most tournaments Chandler attends, friends and strangers alike petitioned him for his pick.

"I don’t know," he told one solicitor early in the week. The 6-foot-3 agent was hunched over a table in a crowded pavilion on a splendid morning at Royal St. George’s, a rare respite in a schedule jammed with client meetings, pint clinking, and schmoozing with journalists. “I haven’t worked it out. I haven’t checked the weather forecast. The one guy outside of our guys, though, who I think will play well is Sergio. It looks like he’s having fun again, doesn’t it?”

On Sunday, Sergio Garcia made six birdies before eventually tying for ninth, his best finish at an Open in four years.

Chandler’s no soothsayer — he says he has lost far more in his gambling career than he has won — but the man clearly has a knack for identifying, and cultivating, talent. That much has become evident over the last 17 months, a span in which one ISM player (Westwood) ascended to No. 1 in the world and four others (Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel, McIlroy and Clarke) won majors. That run, paired with Chandler’s outsize personality, has put him in an unusual, sometimes embarrassing position: He has become more famous than many of his clients.

Fans approach him for his autograph. Reporters pester him for his opinions. Even Cigar Aficionado requested an interview. In the run-up to this year’s PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, Chandler so tired of discussing the so-called “Chubby Slam,” or the prospect of his clients monopolizing the majors in 2011, that he ceased his customary sweeps through the media center. (“I’m tired of talking about me,” he says now.) Westwood likes to sass Chandler about his agent’s burgeoning celebrity, and so do Thomas and Romy, Chandler’s teenage son and daughter with his ex-wife Justine. “They find it quite amusing,” Chandler says. “They keep saying, ‘Dad, why are you in the paper?’ And I say, ‘Because I’ve got a name that nobody forgets.’”

It’s not just his name that’s memorable. Chandler is a bear of a man, with buzzed hair, a bronze sheen, and narrow eyes that curl up like inch worms when he smiles. He’d look right at home on a rugby pitch or working the door of a nightclub, though the tough-guy analogies only go so far. “Cuddly, sweet as pie,” is how Christina Kim, Chandler’s sole LPGA client, describes him.

Chandler’s candor also distinguishes him in a profession rife with furtive, overprotective types. After Clarke won the Open in July, Chandler told a reporter that the timing of the victory was fortunate because the new champion had a “big cash flow problem”—hardly the kind of information you would expect a manager to divulge of his client. Clarke denied it, adding, “I prefer to keep my mouth shut on those sort of things,” but the episode spoke to Chandler’s forthright style. “I’ve always thought the easiest way through anything is to tell the truth,” he says now. “There’s not a lot of bullshit about us.”

To some, that bluntness comes off as swagger. When Westwood and McIlroy bowed out of the PGA Tour’s flagship event, the Players Championship, in May, a couple of high-profile commentators suggested that Chandler was behind it, like some kind of power-tripping pupapeteer. (Johnny Miller called Westwood and McIlroy’s absence a “statement.”) Chandler scoffs at such allegations, and when asked if he and his players generally ought to feel more of an obligation to support the PGA Tour, his eyes widen.

“Obligation?” he says. “Why would we have an obligation? They don’t take the pension because they’re not members. And I think they add to a field when they play.” Chandler also points out that the Tour hasn’t exactly rolled out the red carpet for his boys: “They’ve only just started giving them proper draws, you know. When Lee was No. 3 in the world and he got an invite, he was out at 7:09 a.m. So perhaps we need a bit of respect our way.”

McIlroy is taking up PGA Tour membership in 2012, which should help ease any tension between Chandler and the Tour. Then again, there are no guarantees that McIlroy will remain stateside. “Tony Jacklin was a little bit like Rory,” says Ken Schofield, the former commissioner of the European Tour. When Jacklin hit his stride in the early ’70s, he too flip-flopped between both sides of the pond, and it was unclear, Schofield says, who was setting his agenda: Jacklin or his manager. “That question was often posed, because the super-agents were perceived to have been controlling the athletes, and I guess to a certain extent they still do,” Schofield says. “But I’d say the reverse might be true in the case of Andrew Chandler, because in Andrew you have a professional golfer who actually understands how tours and sponsors and the media work.”

That education began in earnest in 1974 when Chandler joined the fledgling European Tour. He’d win just once over the next 15 years, in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1985, but that didn’t quell Chandler’s bravado; he regularly challenged the likes of Greg Norman to money matches. Chandler proved more adept at finding himself and his peers cheap flights and hotels, a valued skill in the pre-Expedia era. In the late ’80s, a British chemical company showed interest in sponsoring Chandler. “I said, ‘Listen, this deal’s not for me,’ ” Chandler recalls. “ ‘But I’ll find you two other players.’ That’s how [ISM] got started.”

It was a slow start. Chandler trawled practice ranges for business, chatting up players and relying on the charm he inherited from his father, Tommy, a traveling salesman for a soda company. In August 1990, a friend introduced Chandler to Clarke, a fun-loving Walker Cupper with huge upside. After a brief meet-and-greet, Chandler had found a client he could build a future upon. “And so Darren says, ‘What are we going to do about a contract—how long?’ ” Chandler says. “And I just said, ‘Well, Mark McCormack [of IMG] and Arnold Palmer never had one. They just shook hands and got on with it. And he said, ‘Yep, that’s us, that’s us.’ And to be fair that actually shaped the way we do everything. To this day, nobody has a contract.”

To those who say that’s nuts, Chandler says, “If our players trust us with their lives, which most of them do, then me asking them to sign a bit of paper is a bit hypocritical.” Few players have broken ranks with ISM, although Ernie Els walked in September, and Graeme McDowell left in 2007, signing with Dublin-based Horizon Sports Management. Both players appeared to leave on good terms, but their departures were a reminder that Chandler’s m.o. isn’t for everyone.

“Chubby is an ex-player and all the guys who work for him are ex-players, which is great in some ways,” says Conor Ridge, Horizon’s managing director. “We’re businessmen. We have more of a corporate approach with how we manage our sponsors, our players and their brands. You can see that with Graeme. Or at least I hope you can.”

Chandler may not be the Fortune 500 type, but he undoubtedly inspires fierce loyalty in his troops. When Clarke accepted the claret jug, the 42-year-old Northern Irishman was quick to praise Chandler, telling thousands of fans flanking the home hole at St. George’s, “He has had to work for his money looking after me.” Chandler looked on, blinking back tears. Later that night scores of revelers streamed into ISM’s hangout for the week, a modest red-brick house on a residential street just outside the club. Caterers plated barbecue out back. Guests and gatecrashers mingled under a canopy. The jug made the rounds. Chandler slipped off to bed at 4:20 a.m., while Clarke, still in his golf duds, partied through the night. At 7:30 a.m., the glassy-eyed duo reconvened to return to the course for another round with the press. Clarke still hadn’t changed clothes.

“I’m going to go like this,” he announced to Chandler.

Chandler sized up his old friend and made an executive decision. “No,” Chandler said, “I don’t think so.” Fraternizing is common among the ISM brood. Chandler doesn’t demand it, but he certainly encourages it. (“He makes it feel like we’re part of a family instead of a business,” says Scott Pinckney, a recent Arizona State grad who was welcomed into the ISM clan by way of his close friendship with McIlroy.) On the Saturday night of this year’s U.S. Open, with McIlroy sitting on an eight-shot lead and wounds from his Sunday collapse at the Masters still fresh, the youngster didn’t hole up in his hotel room. He and Team Chub gathered for late-night steaks at Ruth’s Chris, seven of them chatting and chuckling around a table until after midnight.

“Chubby treats the players like friends, so we can have a laugh and a joke at each other’s expense. There’s a lot of that,” says Stuart Cage, a former European Tour pro who crossed the aisle from ISM client to staffer; Cage now tends to McIlroy. “Lee has no trouble taking the mickey out of Rory, and Rory and has no worry about taking the mickey out of Lee. There’s just that nature about it, and we all do it. We create a good bond that way.” Case in point: a meal at this year’s Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., when Westwood asked the server to provide McIlroy with crayons so the “kid” would have something to do while the “adults” talked. McIlroy fired back by suggesting that Westwood’s habit of picking up tabs comes off as showy. Says Christina Kim, who had a seat at that table, “You’d never see banter like that on the LPGA Tour without glasses being thrown and tears flowing.”

The weekend before McIlroy’s romp at Congressional, he, Westwood and Chandler made a pilgrimage to Pine Valley, the leafy mecca in southern New Jersey. It’s a tradition Chandler began years ago with Clarke and Westwood—a couple of days to unwind before the crunch of a major week. “We’d have a few drinks, play some cards, and have pleasant conversation,” says Tom Crow, the founder of Cobra Golf and the Pine Valley member who helped initiate the retreats back in the 1990s. “I think it was very relaxing for Clarkey and Westwood.”

The job isn’t all golf and giggles, of course. Whatever Chandler’s public persona, he works as hard as he plays, managing a hectic calendar that takes him on the road, from Sandwich to South Beach to Singapore, roughly 20 days a month. (His golfers consume nearly all his time, but he also keeps an eye on ISM’s other clientele, including some 20 cricketers and 40 soccer players.) In his Cheshire office, he works the phone with Gordon Gekko–like fervor. He even wheels and deals on Twitter. After the British Open, a filmmaker used the social networking site to contact Chandler about creating “viral videos for the Chubby Team.” Chandler tweeted back: “Send me an e-mail…and maybe we can do some business.”

“Chubby enjoys giving the perception that all is fun and all is banter and that he and his players have the odd late night out,” says Schofield, the former commissioner, “but I think that acts as a camouflage—and a very neat camouflage—for the fact that he is driven to provide the best possible chance and the best service for his stable.”

In both good times and bad. Chandler delivered one of hISMore spirited pep talks not to a golfer but to superstar cricketer Andrew Flintoff, an ISM client and noted bon vivant who by the end of his 2001 season had lost his way. Fed up with Flintoff’s apparent apathy, Chandler approached him in the corner of a locker room and unloaded what Flintoff would later describe as “the worst bollicking I’ve ever had.” Flintoff quickly returned to form.

“Sometimes you do a guy a favor by painting them a picture,” Chandler says. “What a lot of sportsmen do is they get so close to what they’re doing that they actually only see what they want to see. They don’t see what’s actually happening.”

Preserving ISM’s chummy vibe will be a challenge for the firm as it continues to globalize; it now has offices on four continents and recently strengthened its foothold in the United States by acquiring the New Jersey talent agency Rule 1.02 Marketing. Complicating matters further is Chandler’s diminished financial stake in the company. A couple of weeks before the 2010 British Open, he sold 75 percent of his ISM holdings to a group of American investors that included two-time major winner Mark O’Meara and Shane McMahon, the son of wrestling magnate Vince McMahon. Chandler says the deal was driven by his recent divorce—“I had to pay off me ex-wife,” he says—and although he acknowledges the bad timing of the sale, he claims not to agonize over it.

“If you live your life in the past you’ve got no chance, have you?” Chandler says. “I don’t view it as anything more than an opportunity to get straight with me wife. I got a good figure, and at the end of the day you move on.

“Nothing will change [at ISM],” he adds. “We’re sort of a touchable company, and I don’t want to lose what we have.”

Most of Chandler’s duties now revolve around McIlroy, who since his transcendent win at Congressional has been flooded with sponsorship opportunities and media requests. Chandler says McIlroy is ready for the spotlight: “You never need to prep Rory — ever. He just is so sharp."

Still, a little gentle guidance never hurts. On the Tuesday of British Open week, Mc- Ilroy and Chandler grabbed lunch before McIlroy’s 2 p.m. press conference. When the chat turned to a round McIlroy played with his father at Royal County Down the previous evening, Chandler perked up.

“You’ve got to bring that into the press conference,” Chandler said. “Everybody will write that down. It’s very human. Every dad, every son, will be jealous.”

After lunch, McIlroy took the mike in front of hundreds of media and dozens of snapping cameras. Fourteen questions in, he found his opening when asked about his father. “Last night we went to Royal County Down at about 7 in the evening and it was just me and him on the golf course, basically no one else,” McIlroy began, painting a scene that would land in the next day’s Guardian and Los Angeles Times and dozens of papers in between.

As McIlroy continued (“It sort of brought back a lot of memories, playing with my dad, long summer nights…”), Chandler looked on from the wings.

Another winning bet.