Graeme McDowell believes Rory McIlroy’s reported plans to give his sports management firm the pink slip and manage his own affairs stems from the on-course struggles of his Northern Ireland countryman and Horizon Sports Management mate.
McDowell, who gave Horizon credibility when he signed on with the company in 2007, backed the Dublin-based corporation at the same time that he took a swipe at the world No. 2.
“I’m pretty sure the management company weren’t giving him golf lessons or caddying for him or telling him how to play,” McDowell said sarcastically to Brian Keogh on Saturday in the wake of news that McIlroy will quit the outfit that helped negotiate his estimated $250 million contract with Nike.
McDowell, who played his way into the finals of this week’s Volvo Match Play in Bulgaria, was instrumental in McIlroy’s seemingly abrupt decision to leave International Sports Management in October 2011 to enlist with Horizon. The 2010 U.S. Open champion made the same move at the end of 2007, saying at the time, according to Keogh, that he was “disillusioned” about the trajectory of his career.
Now, according to Keogh, McIlroy will establish his own management company, with his father Gerry and girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki involved in some capacities.
The split, McDowell said, was “fairly amicable” and conceded it was “fair enough” that McIlroy opted to “do his own thing and surround himself with family.” He noted, however, that it was “pretty tough to look at the Rory scenario and say they’ve done a bad job for the kid.
“He won a second major championship last year, No. 1 player in the world, life seems to be good but you just never know.”
Another of McIlroy's Ryder cup teammates, Lee Westwood, who remains with ISM, offered a different take on McIlroy's situation.
"When Rory first left Chubby [Chandler, ISM chief executive], I thought he should have gone off on his own," Westwood told the Daily Mail. "He’s such a big brand now that it sells itself. I said to him, 'I don’t think you really need anybody other than a couple of good people in place.' He’s going to sell himself for the next 20 years.
"I think he is doing the right thing," Westwood said about McIlroy, whom he termed "lonely" since his game began going sideways. "His dad should be able to give an unaffected opinion. I still ask my parents advice on a lot of things; they’re not involved financially and can give an unclouded judgmentAnd I believe Rory has the capability to win 10 majors."
McIlroy was seemingly on his way to dominating the world of golf, after his record-setting U.S. Open win in 2011, clinching the 2012 PGA Championship, soaring to the top of the world rankings, and earning dual money titles on the PGA and European Tours. Then came that huge Nike deal, criticism about his massive equipment change, and a terrible start to the 2013 season that included a missed cut in Abu Dhabi and a controversial withdrawal from the Honda Classic.
In McDowell’s view, Horizon did all the right things for his young friend, who, he suggested, may rue his choice to leave the firm.
“He’s had a phenomenal 18 months, signing the biggest deal in golf at the end of last year. Business-wise, the guy’s in the best shape he’s ever been in his life. His golf struggled early in the season, for whatever reason,” McDowell said. “Sometimes when we’re not on our game, we have a tendency to, I’m not going to say make wrong decisions, but we have a tendency to question everything in our lives that we are doing and sometimes we have to make changes.”