COMMENTARY | Rory McIlroy just wants something that fits.
From his new Nike clubs and threads to his public relations roller coaster, 2013 has been a bit rough on the 24-year-old Northern Irishman, both on the course and off.
A dubious start to the year began with a missed cut at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and was compounded by McIlroy's walk-off at the Honda Classic two months later. McIlroy's schoolboy charm and flawless motion through the ball endeared him to golf nuts, media and everyone in-between.
Finally, it seemed, there was a world-class talent with a down-to-earth, likable personality; somebody kids could look up to as a true role model in all aspects of his life.
But everything wasn't as simple as McIlroy was making it look.
Golf is hard, and not even McIlroy was immune to its difficulty as we found out at the 2011 Masters when McIlroy imploded on the back nine at Augusta National. Still under the wing of International Sports Management's Andrew "Chubby" Chandler, the man by whom he was represented since he turned pro in 2007, McIlroy gave one of the best mea culpas in recent memory. McIlroy stood up to the fire admirably as he answered every question with poise and candor following his final-round 80, presumably at the urging of his agent and ISM's PR staff.
Two short months later amid a flurry of doubt and predictions of scar tissue build up, McIlroy scorched Congressional Country Club as well as the field to win the 2011 U.S. Open by eight shots. His folly at Augusta now chalked up to growing pains, McIlroy was back on track to becoming the next big thing in professional golf.
And yet, McIlroy wasn't happy with his representation.
A burgeoning star, those close to McIlroy were not surprised when he chose to leave ISM to join Horizon Sports Management in 2011. Horizon was a Dublin-based agency nowhere near the size or stature of ISM, boasting a modest stable of capable athletes that included McIlroy's close friend Graeme McDowell.
While assumptions were made of McDowell wooing his younger compatriot for the agency, more promising theories were asserted that McIlroy was not receiving the attention he required from the larger, more encompassing ISM group.
Chandler, a former professional golfer himself, was much closer with older clients and friends Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke, giving them more time and attention than his up-and-coming star, McIlroy.
Horizon presented a more tight-knit company that had McIlroy and his growing brand atop its priority list. Connor Ridge and Colin Morrissey, the co-founders of the then six-year-old management group took the reigns to McIlroy's affairs.
From a business perspective, what Horizon has done for McIlroy in the past 18 months has been nothing short of impressive. McIlroy, under Horizon, has inked deals most notably with Nike, Omega and Bose, while still keeping logos off of his golf bag. His mostly logo-less bag (with the exception of Santander Bank, a deal rolled over from his time with ISM) has allowed McIlroy to capitalize locally and publicly with his "6 Bags Project," an endeavor that benefits a different local charity at each tournament he plays in.
Once again, despite the prestige, good will and dollar amounts his latest management group has brought upon McIlroy, the Ulsterman has chosen to part ways for greener pastures.
This time, instead of jumping on with a young group in its infancy, Rory is conceiving the group himself. The Associated Press reported that McIlroy will start his own management group that includes his father, Gerry, and other close friends and associates.
Following the model of other successful family-oriented superstars such as Lionel Messi, Roger Federer and Adam Scott, McIlroy will surround himself with those who have his best interests and brand goals as not only among their top priorities, but also as their only priority.
The makeup of the inner circle that McIlroy surrounds himself with will be interesting to note. The business experience and acumen necessary to manage a top-tier talent requires the ability to walk a fine line between brand growth and over-extension of the client. His new group will have to find the balance between marketability and performance that allows McIlroy to continue to perform as one of the best players in the world.
While there is no doubt that Horizon, and ISM before it, had McIlroy's best interest at heart, there is no better luxury than having the people that you know the best and trust the most in charge of your career, brand and, eventually, legacy.
McIlroy will have that luxury going forward and for the affable kid from Norn Iron, it can only mean good things for his brand and his golf game.
Chris Chaney is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based sportswriter. He has written for multiple outlets including WrongFairway.com, Hoopville.com, The Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer and The Clermont (OH) Sun.
Follow him on Twitter @Wrong_Fairway.
- Rory McIlroy