Chubby Chandler takes hands on role

AS HIS long-established nickname immediately suggests, he is something of an unmistakable figure, a man who has forever been hard to miss on tour.

Chubby Chandler is full of praise for the way his long-standing clients Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke. Picture: Getty
Chubby Chandler is full of praise for the way his long-standing clients Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke. Picture: Getty
Chubby Chandler is full of praise for the way his long-standing clients Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke. Picture: Getty

But that’s just what Andrew “Chubby” Chandler was for a while until recently: Largely absent from the world he first inhabited as a European Tour player and later – and more famously – as head of International Sports Management.

It was, of course, a wholly natural progression. As ISM – whose clients include the likes of Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Louis Oosthuizen and, as of two weeks ago, US Amateur champion Matt Fitzpatrick – grew and expanded, Chandler employed more people and gradually assumed a less public role. And it was working. Not so very long ago, 2011 to be exact, ISM clients won the first three majors of the season. Going into the USPGA Championship, the so-called “Chubby Slam” was very much on.

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The last year, however, has seen Chandler’s empire decline somewhat. Trusted lieutenants and former tour pros Stuart Cage and Iain Garbutt departed, along with a number of clients. Suddenly, ISM was an acronym for ‘In Something of a Malaise”. Crisis would be too strong a word, but there was certainly cause for something more than mild concern.

“Losing players is part of business life,” says Chandler, who has resumed his almost constant presence on tour. “I’m fairly phlegmatic when it comes to that. We had three years where everybody who walked out won a major. Then we had six months where it seemed like every phone call was telling me another guy had left. But being a golfer, I understood. You get good bounces and bad bounces. And, over time, they tend to even out.

“More interesting was when my employees left. I gave Stuart and Iain jobs at times when neither of them had jobs. Did I really need them? I certainly didn’t need both. But I put a level of management in place that was not there before. And, naively in retrospect, I assumed they were doing things the way I did. I assumed they knew what was what – which they did, but only to a degree. Things were not getting done in the ways I thought.

“Distancing myself wasn’t the mistake I made though. I took on new people because we were getting bigger. But why do you get bigger? To pay for new people. Now that a couple of guys have gone, my costs are lower. I’m way better off. And I won’t make the same mistake again.”

With normal service back in place, Chandler is visibly a much happier man.

“I realised that I had given away the part of my job that I really liked,” he continues. “I like helping the likes of Tommy Fleetwood, David Horsey and Matt Fitzpatrick. So I’m back being involved with the lads again. Which is what made me successful in the first place.

“The nicest part of it all is how much Lee and Darren have rallied round. On the Sunday before the US Open, at a time when I was nowhere near Pinehurst, they were playing a practice round with young Matt. They did that off their own bat.

“And two weeks ago Darren played with three young lads at Portrush, so that they could practise for the British Amateur. For them to have five hours with one of the world’s best links golfers – on his home course – was huge. As Darren said to me before they went, ‘make sure they bring a notebook and pencil – there will be a lot to write down.’ All of which has been really gratifying. My senior players, those that have been with me the longest, saw that I needed help. So they stepped up.

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“Plus, Matt coming to us was huge. That sends a good message to the industry and the tour. It was so important for us. He’s a good, old-fashioned boy. And signing with us shows we’re back in business.”

Speaking of which, always a keen observer of the world around him, Chandler’s increased presence has only exacerbated his long-held worries regarding the current and future direction of the European Tour.

“The tour is not in good shape right now,” he contends. “There is no discernible strategy, which has been the case for too long. Yes, it’s recently been a game of survival to a degree. But we haven’t been getting things right. There is no long-term plan. Which doesn’t surprise me. If you have a ten-year plan you have to be capable of executing that plan. And I’m not sure the tour has people who can do that.

“Here’s what really gets me going. I have people from the tour telling me they have a sponsor for a British event but they can’t find a date. Can’t find a date? All the dates ‘belong’ to the tour. So if they can’t find one, what on earth are they doing? How ridiculous is that? They can do whatever they want. They do the schedule.

“Imagine if the same thing happened in the States. I can’t see [PGA Tour Commissioner Tim] Finchem ever saying he can’t find a date for a great sponsor. He’d get them in. I don’t get that the European Tour can’t do the same.”

OK, at which point it is time to put Chandler on the spot. What exactly would he do if he rather than European Tour chief executive George O’Grady were in charge at Wentworth?

“I would sit down with the top guys and find out which weeks they would be prepared to play,” says the former Brazilian Open champion. “George said he was going to do that last year, but then didn’t. I would put it on the line to those guys. I’d tell them that we really need their help. We need a strong European Tour and we need you to achieve that. We need to know when you will play.

“Once I had that information, I would lower the number of events they need to play in order to maintain their membership. Right now, the tour goes about that the wrong way. They look like they are trying to get people to play more and, in doing so, they drive them away. They have options. And, right now, the European Tour is not the best of those.

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“I’d start with Adam Scott. He is the highest non-European on the rankings. I’d ask him what we needed to do to make it possible for him to join the European Tour. Could he, for example, play 11 events? Four majors, four World Golf Championships, the BMW PGA, the Dunhill Links with his dad and one other, which he will almost certainly be paid to play in. That’s how I would do it with all of them. I’d make sure they were all members.”

Anything else, while we’re here?

“I would put the ‘Race to Dubai’ out to tender,” says Chandler, warming up now. “The only people who can sponsor such things are governments. So we could have a ‘Race to Mauritius.’ Or the ‘Race to South Africa.’ Or wherever. You wouldn’t have to sell it. All you’d have to do is sit back and wait for the offers to come in. Just like they do with the Ryder Cup.

“Speaking of which, that brings me back to my original point. The European Tour is in no position to get tough with the leading players. Why get tough? If you tell Lee Westwood he has to play 15 events, he’ll just stay in America. He has that option.

“Besides, any implications of change for the Ryder Cup can be worked out through the selection process. You can always come up with a system that allows the best 12 players to qualify. It just takes a bit of thought. It’s not that hard. If you take ten off the world rankings and add two picks you’ll always have a great team.

“The Ryder Cup is a huge cash cow for the tour. And the great thing is it isn’t going away. One of the best things about it is that it is a biennial event. If it were played every year it wouldn’t be the same. I like that it goes out to tender. That’s smart.”

What a relief. It’s nice to know the tour and its seemingly ever-growing band of green-jacketed officials are successfully selling at least one Big Issue.