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Golf's Super Agent

Chubby Chandler’s clients include four major tournament winners and a solid cast of golf’s biggest stars
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Havana—The Insider's Guide, November/December 2011

He strides through the golf world as a colossus, making calls at the practice ranges, the putting greens, the clubhouses, the media centers, the official hotels and the unofficial bars.With a smile of bleached white teeth, an aroma of Jo Malone cologne and a presence of a right good Bolton bloke, Andrew “Chubby” Chandler wheels and deals as golf’s agent extraordinaire.

Not since Mark McCormack made a handshake deal with Arnold Palmer in 1960 and used that relationship to build the International Management Group, has an agent been so front and center in the sport.

Chubby Chandler has gathered a stable of proven veterans and blossoming superstars with handshakes and turned it into International Sports Management, a company of global reach that nonetheless remains very much a close-knit family. Within that family are major tournament winners Darren Clarke, Rory McIlroy, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Ernie Els. Major contender Lee Westwood is part of the flock. So, too, Simon Dyson, a two-time winner in 2011 on the European PGA Tour and LPGA player Christina Kim.

During the summer of 2011 there was even talk of the “Chubby Slam” going into the PGA Championship with Schwartzel winning the Masters, McIlroy the U.S. Open and the 42-year-old Clarke winning the British Open. Since when were “Slam” and “agent” ever linked?

In a sport conducted with hushed and guarded voices, Chandler is somewhat of a loudmouth, only by virtue of his candidness. While others—agents, players and officials—deal with the media as a necessary evil, Chandler embraces his role as spokesman for his players, addressing their virtues and their shortcomings with equal sincerity.

Clarke was Chandler’s first big handshake in 1990, having started his business in 1989 after abandoning his own 14-year pro career with one tournament victory.

Clarke speaks to the heart of Chandler’s appeal.

“Chubby, he’s been my manager, he’s been like another father for me; he’s been a friend for a very long time. He’s looked after me through thick and thin and, as I’ve said, through the good times and the bad times, he’s always been there for me. I’ve annoyed him a few times and he’s annoyed me a few times, but not many. I think you could count it on one hand in 21 years. We have a special relationship with no contract, shake of a hand, and his word is good enough for me."

Chandler’s career as an agent began when he started selling himself as a golfer. The man from Bolton, England (near Manchester), was better at promoting himself than he was as a player. He was good, but just not good enough, and knew he would have to do something besides slash a ball around if he was to have anything like success. In his best Bolton accent, which turns major into “mayja,” Chandler, 59, says:

“I needed an alternative to selling tee pegs and giving lessons. I would have been a club pro. I suppose I would have wanted to be a director of golf. I knew I was good at PR, but I didn’t really know what PR was. I was good at talking with the media, with sponsors, that sort of thing. I got along well. I stopped playing and formed my company International Sports Management in 1989. I was making a living, barely a living.”

He started out with four lesser-known players—Carl Mason, Derek Cooper, Phil Harrison and Dennis Durnian—friends of his from the Tour.

“If I could get sponsorships for myself, I could do it for others,” says Chandler, sitting in the media center of the Irish Open in Killarney, doing his usual rounds. “I could do it because it was me, it was who I was. I could sell myself. I had been doing deals for myself since 1977. There was a kitchen company I did a deal with for 8,000 pounds for the logo and a few company outing days. That was 1981. 8,000 pounds doesn’t sound like much, but 30 years ago that was a pretty good deal.”

What Chandler was good at doing was camaraderie. He could connect his friends in the game with his friends in the executive offices. It was just what he was doing for himself and there really was no line for him between the locker room, the board room and the bar room. His gift for gab, even though he didn’t know he had it, and his desire to be part of the game and the lives of those that played it, drove him to do what came naturally.

He got a few contracts for his original cadre of players. Then he got a phone call that would change everything.

“In May of 1990 an Irish lawyer I knew called and said there was a really good young player in the Irish Amateur, that he was going to win the thing and he wanted someone to talk to about whether he should turn pro,” says Chandler. “That was Darren Clarke. So he won the Amateur and I went over to meet him. Because he was talented, and playing golf was what he wanted to do, turning pro was the logical thing.”

The 20-year-old Clarke and Chandler shared a gregarious quality that led to an instant connection. Clarke asked about a contract and Chandler responded with an explanation of the Palmer-McCormack handshake agreement.

“Then we’ll do that,” Clarke responded.

“He said, ‘I just want to play golf and you do everything else,’ ” says Chandler.  “It meant doing absolutely everything else and it still means doing absolutely everything else. The chat with Darren became the template for the whole company. He was a gregarious, handsome, overspending young man. He is very straight and honest.”

Based on Clarke’s success as a pro (though he did not win a “mayja” until his stirring British Open triumph in July), Chandler was able to add talent, like Westwood, Graeme McDowell (who left him before his U.S. Open title), the superstar in the making Rory McIlroy, the brilliant young South African Charl Schwartzel and his countryman Louis Oosthuizen, and the veteran “mayja” winner Ernie Els.

For the record, Els announced in September that he was leaving Chandler, who he signed with in 2005, to consolidate all his business in Florida where he lives. Els hooked up with a new agency, Pros Inc, headed by Vinny Giles and Buddy Marucci.

Both Els and Chandler were publicly buddy-buddy about the split, Chandler saying he was sure he would still be having a few beers with Els. McDowell left Chandler in 2007, with Chandler blaming himself, saying that he did not pay enough attention to him.

Chandler’s business expanded into other sports: cricket, soccer, snooker (yes, snooker) and Paralympics swimmer Heather Frederiksen. In fact, it was the success of English cricketer Andrew Flintoff that gave Chandler the experience he needed to deal with all the demands on his major winners, starting with Oosthuizen at St Andrews in 2010.

   “While I didn’t have a major winner until Louis [Els had won his majors before signing with Chandler], I had dealt with the situation like that before with Andrew Flintoff,” says Chandler. “He was the absolute hero of the Ashes [test match] between England and Australia in 2005. He certainly was as big as Rory was winning the Open.”

At this year’s Masters, Chandler was torn by emotions. His young superstar McIlroy was leading going into the final round but started letting things slip away. Then he pull hooked his drive on the 10th hole, ending up between member cabins for his second shot. He fell like a stone down the leaderboard and out of contention.

But Schwartzel caught fire, made birdie on the last four holes and donned the Green Jacket.

“At the Masters, you can imagine my emotions with Rory and Charl,” says Chandler. “Rory’s sort of dying in public and Charl is making birdie on the last four holes to win. I was having incredible highs and lows in the same breath.”

It was in that moment, of Schwartzel’s high and McIlroy’s low, that all of Chandler’s acumen was required. Perhaps more so than any other agent, Chandler is not just a deal maker, but a mentor, a shepherd. The congratulations for Schwartzel weren’t as important as the consolation of McIlroy, though he knew his young charge was tough at heart, that it was just a bad day, and that there were good ones to come.

“I’ve learned that when something happens like what happened to Rory, you want to buy some time,” says Chandler, who had publicly vowed that his goal for McIlroy was not to make him a basket case by age 25. “There are too many emotions when something like that happens. In Rory’s case, we didn’t talk about the Masters for probably 10 days. He went off to Malaysia straight away. I know he wasn’t as down as people think he might have been. Right after it, he said he had a bad day, it was just a golf tournament, that he was 21 and a lot of future in front of him.”

Chandler knew in his role as mentor and shepherd, that McIlroy was not prepared for that Masters moment, that despite his major talent, he did not look like a major winner. Among the cricketers he represents is Michael Vaughan, once the English captain and someone he calls upon for sage advice. Chandler likes to get his veteran athletes together, to discuss the experiences of his younger players and how they might handle the pressure better.

“I could tell when he went to the first tee at Augusta on Sunday that his body language wasn’t correct. He had his head down as he walked through the crowd and he looked straight down when he walked on the tee. It was like he didn’t want to engage them.

“I talked with Mike Vaughan and he said when players were under pressure they always looked straight down,” says Chandler. “He wanted them to look at the horizon, keep their eyes up, keep engaged.

“I said to Rory at Congressional, ‘keep your head up, engage the crowd, embrace it.’ And I think you could see the difference straight away as he walked to the first tee. It was head up all the way, looking at the crowd.”

And ultimately looking a long way back to the second place finisher.

“He told me to look back at that last day at the Masters,” says  McIlroy. “He asked me to look at my body language and look at how much, even on the front nine when I was still in the lead, how much I was looking down at my feet and down on the ground instead of keeping my eyes up and maybe about level with the crowd. It just gives you a more confident body language and your chest is out, even if it’s a subconscious thing. But it did; it definitely helped. I needed to believe a bit more and believe that I could do it.”

While Clarke’s career had been successful, he always had issues with his confidence, and then he took a serious blow when his wife Heather was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 and died in 2006. Suddenly his focus couldn’t be squarely on golf anymore, and Chandler’s focus couldn’t be just on marshalling his career.

“Things come along that no one can prepare for,” says Chandler. “Darren lost a good six years of his career during her illness and the grieving period. All you can do is be there for him, when he wanted to talk, wanted to cry. There were still things that had to been done for his career, but they were very much on the back burner. I just had to be a friend. It was all I could be.”

“He would get unbelievably down on himself. In September of 2009 he called me and he was definitely depressed about his whole situation. I said give me 24 hours and I will come up with a plan. I called him and said you should 50 percent make a move back to Northern Ireland [from his estate in Surrey near London], 50 percent make a move to Manchester near me and 0 percent stay where you are. Within two days he was making plans to move back to Ireland.”

That move back to his homeland, near his father Godfrey and mother Hettie, put Clarke on the road to recovery, of both his career and his life. He was introduced by McDowell to Alison Campbell, a former Miss Northern Ireland, and they are now engaged. It was Campbell on whom he planted a kiss after winning the British Open, and Chubby Chandler was nearby for the requisite hug and a pint of Guinness or two later.

“He has five more years of a career now,” says Chandler, referring to the five-year exemptions Clarke earned to the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship and entry into many more high profile tournaments.

Clarke carried on his celebrations overnight, but Chandler got back to the business of managing his players the next day, in particular the majorless but oft-contending Lee Westwood. Chandler was working on the “Chubby Slam.”

“Last week you might have thought that I would be celebrating with Darren, but I was working with Lee, working on a plan for him to win a major,” says Chandler at the Irish Open. “We had four, five people sitting around a table, everybody very honest about their feelings and opinions. We have a plan for the U.S. PGA. I’m not going to say what it is. But it’s a plan.” Westwood finished eighth, another good show, but another trip home without the trophy.

The seeds of Schwartzel’s victory might well have been sown at the British Open at St. Andrews in 2010, at the Jigger Inn. The Jigger is a well-known little bar just off the course, that Chandler had rented for the week. Invited guests needed to know a password each evening to get it. After Oosthuizen had completed his convincing victory, Schwartzel spent time with Chandler in the Jigger.

“Louis winning the Open last year was amazing,” says Chandler, who just before the start of that tournament had sold 75 percent of his company to a consortium of investors, while remaining its managing director and a partner. “I sat in the Jigger on Sunday night with him and his wife, Hennie Otto and Charl Schwartzel.

“At some point I said to Charl, ‘I know you think that it should be you holding that trophy. If Louis can win a major, it proves that you can win a major.’ Charl then wins the Masters. Charl was a consequence of Louis. Rory wins the Open. Rory was a consequence of Graeme McDowell, of Charl and of Louis.”

All, it seems, a consequence of Chandler’s robustly familial approach to his job, which really isn’t his job. There is no real dividing line between his personal and professional lives, a fact that likely caused his divorce six years ago, though the marriage did produce two teenage sons of which he is immensely proud, Tom and Romey.

To promote togetherness among his players, Chandler will rent a bunch of houses for them at major tournament venues. At Augusta last April, he took 22 houses in one area of town, using one of them as a central location for parties and get-togethers. His cadre of rental homes became known as Chubbyville.

Though his business and his life tend to melt together, he does allow himself the occasional getaway where he switches the mobile phone, which is constantly ringing and is filled with messages, back to the office. And he does allow himself the diversionary vice of horse racing and says he owns 16 horses along with Westwood. One of them, Hoof It, won a big stakes at Goodwood this year.

What Chandler has learned over his 22 years as an agent is that the discipline, the work ethic he lacked as a player, is essential to the success of the players he represents. He has consultants for physical and mental well-being, a sharp contrast to his playing days and his first years as an agent.

“I played well enough to the age of about 34. But I didn’t work as hard as I should, wasn’t as disciplined,” says Chandler, who realized that he, and his players, needed to dedicate themselves to the game. “I should think that maybe up to five years ago we would have been looked at as a bunch of guys who were better in the bar than on the golf course,” said Chandler. “We have changed to a group of guys who are dedicated and disciplined.”

Oh, about that nickname, Chubby. He got it when he was anything but chubby. He was short of his 18th birthday, thin as a 2-iron, when a friend pinched his cheeks and referred to him as Chubby Cheeks, a name that somehow stuck to him and later became just Chubby. He’s tried to stick to a diet lately but without visible success. The man loves a good meal and a fine claret.

“Even my mum, she’s 88, has started calling me Chubby over the last three or four years,” says Chandler.

Everyone knows Chubby, and it doesn’t hurt that he is the most available agent on the planet to the media. He’s the only agent who regularly makes the media rounds and has plenty of good things to say. He does it, he says, because he was afraid that when his players became successful that they would be swallowed into the maw of IMG, the biggest sports representation company. He wanted everyone to know that his players were his players, that they were International Sports Management folk, that they were part of the family.

But he’s not the ruler of the flock, according to Jeev Milkha Singh, India’s most successful player who signed up with Chandler in 2006.

“The thing I like about Chubby is that you can always get ahold of him and talk with him. He’s very personal that way.  He always has time for you,” says Singh. “He gives you the options and you decide. He’s not telling you that you have to do something. He gives you all the information and his opinion and you decide.”

Chandler can tell you why, in all likelihood, he makes a good agent.

“As a player and as an agent I have made all the mistakes, usually twice,” says Chandler. “You learn from there and get on with it. No time for regret.”

Jeff Williams is a contributing editor for Cigar Aficionado.

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