HE HIT the first-ever shot off the first tee in the first round of the first-ever Karl Litten (Dubai) Desert Classic back in 1989 and this week Andrew “Chubby” Chandler returned to the scene of his “low neck into the left fairway bunker”. The opening tee at the Emirates Club looks pretty much the same, but both Chandler – who shot 74-75-69-76 for a T-52 finish that earned him £1,505 – and the tournament have moved upwards and onwards during the intervening 26 years.
Today, the Dubai Desert Classic is the final third of the European Tour’s “Middle East Swing”. And Chandler? The self-confessed “average golfer” is head of International Sports Management and one of the game’s most influential player agents. It’s safe to say both have done quite well for themselves.
“This event doesn’t get nearly enough credit,” says Chandler, who handles the off-course affairs of a number of high-profile players, most notably Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood. “For a tournament to last 26 years at the same venue is remarkable. Plus, this was the start of the European Tour going ‘international’. I don’t think we went outside Europe before that. There were certainly no Asian tournaments. So from that point of view, I think the tour should acknowledge this event more.”
Speaking of Clarke, his manager is adamant the 2011 Open champion must win the upcoming vote to elect the man best equipped to lead Europe into the next Ryder Cup.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Darren should be Ryder Cup captain,” says Chandler, whose lone professional victory came at the 1985 Sao Paulo International. “His playing record is better than most. He’s beaten the world numbers one, two and three in the Ryder Cup. He’s been assistant captain twice. And he’s very popular in America. He ticks all the boxes.
“And here’s the thing about Darren no one realises. His attention to detail is close to ridiculous. If you go into his hotel room everything is laid out – the shoes, the belts, the clothes – for each day he is there. If he is captain, the team will have the very best of everything.
“Plus, Darren would be just like Paul McGinley when it comes to attention to detail. That’s a big part of the job, especially before the match even starts. McGinley was so good it will be impossible for any future European captain to get away from what he has done. Any new captain’s first port of call should be lunch with Paul.”
Sticking with the Ryder Cup, like the rest of us, Chandler watched with a mixture of pleasure and horror at what went on at Gleneagles last September. Unimpressed by many of the strategic decisions made by US skipper Tom Watson – “telling Webb Simpson he wouldn’t play again until the singles was ridiculous after only one match” – he is supportive of Phil Mickelson, who so memorably exposed his captain’s shortcomings at the post-match press conference.
“The Ryder Cup was a massive success for Scotland,” continues Chandler. “The course was presented as well as it could be, given the course that it is. The venue was magnificent. It was perhaps a shame they had to trail off to Glasgow for the dinner but people forget that. It also showed up everything that was good about Europe in the Ryder Cup and everything that is poor about America. I thought Mickelson was treated terribly. I can’t see how you can leave him out on Saturday. Not all day. He has to play in the four-balls at least – with anybody. And I’d have had him out there first. They have to have him playing as the talisman. That he didn’t play shows how big was the personality clash he had with Watson.
“What went on obviously got to Phil so much he had to get it off his chest. He wanted to deflect some of the criticism away from the team. He wanted to show they hadn’t had much leadership. Phil is a calculating guy, so he would know what he was doing. He clearly wanted people to know what went on.”
Looking forward, Chandler isn’t content to merely recommend Clarke for the European captaincy. He also has a few suggestions as to who should lead the US side at Hazeltine next year.
“The identity of their next captain is going to be interesting,” he says with a smile.
“He’s going to have a lot of young guys on the team. So he’ll have to know how to connect with that age group. But it does give them a chance to build a new team ethos. They could do worse than ask Phil if he wanted to be captain rather than play. He’s got an empathy with Rickie [Fowler] and Jordan [Spieth] and the rest of them.
“Then again, I would choose Justin Leonard. He would be my pick. He’s their McGinley. He’s hard. Wants to win. I think he’d be really good, far more than Paul Azinger or Fred Couples. Fred is a lovely bloke, but the Presidents Cup is perfect for him because everyone plays and he doesn’t have to think about whom to leave out.”
Back in his own office, Chandler is a lot happier now than he has sometimes been in recent years. Long before the world’s No.1-ranked golfer, Rory McIlroy, fell out with his managers at Horizon Sports – the court case is due to start on Tuesday in Dublin – the now 25-year-old Irishman started his professional career under the ISM umbrella. He was there for four and a half years, before leaving for new horizon(s).
That was only one of Chandler’s many problems, too. A couple of valuable employees – former European Tour pros Ian Garbutt and Stuart Cage – departed. So did a number of clients. Suddenly, Chandler had some tough decisions to make. “It’s been an interesting journey,” he shrugs. “In the last 15 months I have ended up getting my old job back. The problem was, the bigger the company became, the more I delegated. And the more I delegated, the more I lost touch. Ironically, I became detached from the part of the business I like most. I have mentored loads of guys – Rory, Darren, Lee [Westwood], Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel – then suddenly I gave that job to someone else.
“For example, I made a mistake with Rory. I did it in what I thought were his best interests, when I assigned Stuart to him. He was a lot nearer Rory’s age than I was. But I wouldn’t do that again. I’d stay involved.
“Efficiently apportioning my time is an interesting part of my job. I have to be aware of what I need to do and whom I need to keep a close eye on. Some guys need more love than others. I enjoy seeing them all develop. It’s going to be fun to watch someone like Tommy Fleetwood go from 21 years old to 30 years old. You see them become men. I’ve seen them all go through marriages, kids, engagements, divorces and one death. So I’ve seen right across the spectrum.”
Right from the start too, at least as far as the Dubai Desert Classic is concerned.