At the time of writing, Rory McIlroy sits on top of the leader board after the second round of the Shanghai Masters, following up a 64 in his opening 18 holes with 69 on day two to stay in hunt for the biggest winner’s cheque in Golf.
All of which coming at a time when his decision’s off the course are being scrutinized more so than those on the course. As he has done in America, the Ulsterman looks set to win over both corporate and ordinary golf loving China in one foul swoop and prove us all wrong in the process, and you know what it is hard to argue with the logic of such a brilliant talent.
While the concerns for McIlroy are the same that are held for any young prodigy who even at the hint of coming slightly derailed and sidetracked with the distractions of a lofty position of fame, such as his. It is easy to conclude from McIlroy’s recent decisions and actions – the sacking of manager Chubby Chandler and moving to Dublin-based management agency Horizon, the new tennis star girlfriend after his split with long term sweetheart Holly Sweeney and his decision to up sticks and move to Florida to join the US tour – that his head has been turned by more ill-suited motivations, but that is taking a simplistic black and white view of the situation.
Chubby Chandler’s International Sports Management (ISM) group has a number golf’s biggest stars as its clients, with the likes of Open Champion Darren Clarke, world number 2 Lee Westwood and South African’s Louis Oosthiuzen and Charl Schwartzel, the US Masters champion. The stable’s image and popularity is boosted by the charisma and affable presence of Chubby, who can always be seen getting emotional on the 18th hole as one of his boys is about to clinch a major or tournament championship.
Chandler was there for a young McIlroy before he turned professional in 2007 and was there with tears in eyes as Rory clinched the first major of his career, lifting the US Open at the Congressional. Now, as McIlroy seemingly coldly split from Chandler’s friendly-faced management group, the young Irishman may come across as ungrateful or disloyal, with Westwood commenting on Twitter this week that his actions were “bizarre”, resulting in McIlroy immediately removing himself as a follower of Westwood.
It is a harsh criticism of the young Ulsterman to condemn him from moving from one company to another as, in the cold light of day, ISM and Horizon are both businesses. Chandler wasn’t managing McIlroy out of the goodness of his heart; the Holywood star represented a large financial prospect for ISM. McIlroy has moved to a smaller agency that is based in Dublin and also manages his close friend and last year’s US Open champion, Graeme McDowell.
McDowell was also once under the wing of Chubby Chandler but split with him after he signed McIlroy and subsequently went on to win the US Open after leaving ISM.
With Horizon, a smaller agency with fewer big name stars, McIlroy feels he has the room and attention to expand his brand. To a pure sports fan that may sound cynical but the likes of Tiger Woods didn’t get to the pinnacle of golf based on his record alone. His marketing campaign with Nike as a young man made everyone sit up and take notice of this outrageous young talent and, coupled with being one of, if not, the best golfer to ever live, helped him achieve the heights he reached before his own disastrous personal meltdown. McIlroy doesn’t need a top class agent to help him avoid that particular pitfall.
As long as McIlroy’s interests and decisions off the course don’t affect his game on it, there is no reason to jump to conclusions of him becoming ungrounded or distracted. He finished in the top three of every tour competition he has played since his stilted performance at the US PGA Championships due to injury.
As for McIlroy’s choice of girlfriend, who can honestly say with any certainty what kind of effects Caroline Wozniacki will have on his career. The ‘Yoko Ono’ factor is an idea played up to a lot with sports stars, with the likes Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo supposedly cursed by then girlfriend, singer Jessica Simpson, and the famous David and Victoria Beckham coupling that Sir Alex Ferguson thought was justification enough to see his most famous fledgling booted out of Old Trafford to Real Madrid for £25million.
McIlroy and Wozniacki’s courtship can hardly be compared to either of those, or any other high profile cases as they are both professionals at the top of their game; Wozniacki is world number one in women’s tennis and McIlroy is in the top three of his profession. Anyone pointing to Wozniacki as a distraction to McIlroy’s game is clutching at straws and drawing conclusions from speculation and rumours.
McIlroy has a long way to go before he’s even mentioned in the same breath with the likes of Tiger Woods but his star is steadily rising and at the moment he is going in the right direction.
If McIlroy starts dropping down the Race to Dubai list and the world rankings, and can be seen falling out of nightclubs with Miss Wozniacki, then it may be time to question his potential as a force in golf but until then, a change in management, no matter how disappointing it may seem to fans of Chubby Chandler’s charm, and a new girlfriend aside so far it’s business as usual for camp McIlroy.