Chubby Chandler and his major winners
By Derek Lawrenson
Last updated at 12:42 AM on 9th July 2011
Sitting proud: ‘Chubby’ Chandler manages three of the four major champions
Heaven knows how far back you have to go to find the last time there were four current major champions all under the age of 30 but one thing’s for sure: you’ll find no precedent for the fact three of them were nurtured from an early age by the same man.
In the lingo of the age, Chubby Chandler is listed as manager of Rory McIlroy, Charl Schwartzel and next week’s defending champion Louis Oosthuizen. but they’re more like members of his extended family than clients.
When Masters champ Schwartzel got married in his native South Africa last year, the 58-year-old Lancastrian flew 6,000 miles to be there, then flew back the following day. When McIlroy had four days to spare between his UNICEF trip to Haiti and the start of the US Open last month, Chandler joined him for a relaxing jaunt that proved so beneficial McIlroy went on to play the best golf of his life.
Some managers are afraid of saying anything but Chandler’s relationship with his players runs so deep he offers revealing insights. There has been disquiet in some quarters, for example, that McIlroy will go to The Open at Royal St George’s next week having not played since his historic exploits at Congressional, but how’s this for a candid rebuffal?
‘I honestly think Rory plays the game only to win majors and he’s been like that since the age of about 15,’ said Chandler. ‘Not only is he not interested in the money, I don’t think he’s even that bothered about regular tournament wins. Yes, some players you’d worry about taking three weeks off before The Open but not him, as he showed at the Masters, where he also had three weeks off in the build-up.
‘It’s far more important for him to rest and do his prep work at the course the week before. That’s what works for him.’
Controversial decision: Rory McIlroy chose to rest ahead of The Open
What makes Chandler’s own story all the more remarkable is that only 13 months ago people were openly questioning his methods, thinking his players enjoyed themselves too much.
Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke, two more he took under his wing from an early age, had failed to win majors commensurate with their undoubted talent. nobody from Chandler’s stable had won a major in his 20 years of management.
Matters came to a head when Graeme McDowell won the US Open last year. The Northern Irishman was a player Chandler once managed but one who had only truly thrived when he slipped through his fingers.
‘Bloody typical!’ was Chandler’s reaction to G-Mac’s success but his critics were not so forgiving, believing his reputation was in danger of being smashed on the rocks of Pebble Beach. Funnily enough, it’s not an opinion you hear much of these days. We met for a long natter at his Cheshire hideaway, the headquarters of his company International Sports Management. as you would imagine, the walls of the boardroom are lined with the successes of players from his considerable stable, which also includes Simon Dyson, Chris Wood and Ernie Els.
Chubby got his nickname as a rake-thin teenager when a South African pinched his ‘chubby chops’ but the only pounds he is gaining these days are of the cash variety. He’s on a WeightWatchers diet and has lost 8lb. If he loses 40, Johann Rupert, the man behind the Dunhill Links pro-am, has promised he can partner Westwood in this year’s edition in October.
Big Easy: Ernie Els (right) with Chandler at The Open in 2009
‘Ever wondered what a million-dollar cheque looks like?’ says Chubby, by way of an unusual greeting. It’s certainly as near as I’ll get to one. The post has just arrived and one of the items is McIlroy’s prize for winning his first major.
As the man behind a figure seemingly destined for popularity on a Beckhamesque scale, we might as well start with the special one.
‘I think we realise here is a player who is going to be on a different level to any golfer we have seen since the early days of Tiger,’ said Chandler.
I often compare Rory to Seve but he’s probably more like Arnold Palmer in the way he plays and interacts with people. When he was 15 he used to worry about being too cocky and then he went too much the other way, but I think we saw at Congressional he’s now got the balance right.
‘One of the things people like about Rory is when they hear him speak it is so authentically him. Sometimes you hear players and it’s so false, too prepped, but Rory never sounds like people have put words into his mouth.
‘I just marvel listening to him, whether it is in victory or defeat. Yes, he’s dropped the odd ricket, like when he described the Ryder Cup as an exhibition, but it’s part of his charm that he admits when he gets it wrong and he did on that occasion after having such a great time at Celtic Manor.
Defending champion: Chandler-managed Louis Oosthuizen with the Claret Jug
‘I remember sitting with him when he was an amateur at The Open at Carnoustie in 2007, when he shot the only bogey-free score in the first round. he was about to be interviewed by Gary Lineker on television and I said to him I’d organise some media training for him. he looked at me as if I’d grown a second head and, of course, he handled the interview brilliantly. I cancelled the media training that night.’
At the Masters in April, Chandler found himself in the extraordinary position of having to console McIlroy while congratulating Schwartzel. on the final day of the US Open last month he was talking to Westwood on the practice range when McIlroy stepped up.
Celebratory pint: Chandler at St Andrews on the day of Oosthuizen’s win
‘It’s amazing to think that, after so many years where we struggled in majors, we’ve now had nearly all the key players in the last few, and you learn so much from every one,’ he said.
‘I regret not driving to the course with Lee before the first round of the US Open, for example, when I could have helped him with the weight of expectation. I regret not going on to the practice ground with Rory before his last round at the Masters.
‘I saw him come through the crowd and his body language was wrong, I could sense he wasn’t feeling as comfortable as he had been. We talked about it afterwards and I don’t think Rory thought I had anything to offer on the range. but, while there’s no chance of me saying the wrong thing, there is the chance I might say a few right things, and it was a conscious effort on both our parts at Congressional.
‘It was funny, there were about 90 mediaguys and thousands of spectators wondering what the hell we were talking about and thinking we were having this earnest conversation before his date with destiny but it was far from that.
‘What were we talking about? That thing men always talk about, and I could see it helped him relax and focus.
‘At the Masters he looked like he felt he didn’t belong while at the US Open he left that range thinking, “This trophy is mine, and I’m going out to earn it”.’
Westwood was aiming a few well-placed digs between McIlroy’s ribs at the US Open in an effort to seek out a weak spot. what did Chandler think about that?
‘If I thought Rory took any notice I might be more worried,’ he said, smiling. ‘I think you have to expect it when you have two people at the height of their profession. They are highly competitive, and there’d be something wrong if there wasn’t that kind of thing going on when they’re both trying to win a major. but they’re friends.’
Chandler had come to the natural end of a 14-year journeyman’s career when he decided to go into sports management. he had no formal qualifications.
Master: Charl Schwartzel dons the Green Jacket at Augusta
‘I was never a great player but I always had plenty of deals so maybe I was doing my job earlier than I thought,’ he said. ‘My dad was a travelling salesman and some of his easy manner rubbed off on me. I knew I had no chance of taking on the might of IMG, with their offices all around the world. what could I offer that was different?
‘When Darren came on board in 1990 I knew we had a business and when he asked us to look after everything that sort of became the template. We were coming back from celebrating his first professional tournament win in Belgium when I took a call from John Westwood. he told me about his son, Lee, and asked whether we’d be interested in looking after him.
‘Even now, when we’re looking after about 35 players, I still have a relationship with all the fathers and quite a few of the mothers as well. Sometimes it is important to speak to those close to the players to understand what’s going on.
‘As for Lee, he really stood out at the tour qualifying school that year. he finished fourth when his record indicated he should have been nothing like that good. but he walked around like it was a monthly medal, he had no nerves, and I knew then he was going to be special. what do I look for in a player? The bottom line is you need to get on with them. later on you might think to yourself, “Wow, he’s got plenty of desire”. but you have to get on.
Chubby’s tip: Chandler thinks Lee Westwood will win The Open
‘I’m proud of the fact every player who comes to us says things like “make me a top 50 player” or “make me realise my dream”. They never say “make me rich” or “give me deals that will get me into these tournaments” because people know we don’t operate like that.
‘Yes, the deals give us all a wonderful lifestyle but the buzz is in sharing the good days and bad days and seeing them succeed at the end of it. and we’ve become very good at that.’
So good, in fact, his company enjoyed their best-ever day at the last major with not only McIlroy winning in spectacular style but Westwood finishing third and Schwartzel and Oosthuizen also in the top 10.
So to Royal St George’s. who does he particularly fancy this time from his fabulous array of talent to continue what might become known as the Chubby Slam? he thinks for a moment, weighing up the merits of each before settling on a one-word reply.
‘Lee,’ he said.