We sat down with one of the game's most interesting characters to hear his take on the world of professional golf
Chubby Chandler is a man who looms large over the European Tour, both physically and metaphorically.
His management company, International Sports Management (ISM), looks after 21 European Tour regulars including Major Champions, a Ryder Cup captain, talented young guns and established winners.
When it comes to the business of top-level professional golf, Chubby’s influence is never far away.
Neil Tappin met up with the former European Tour player turned manager at this year’s Dubai Desert Classic.
With Tiger Woods taking his place in the field and the landscape of professional golf changing rapidly, it seemed like a good time to pick the brains of one of golf’s biggest off-course characters.
What follows is an incredibly candid look at the state of professional golf…
When he plays, what does Tiger bring to a tournament?
We have a pretty good idea of that because of the event in Turkey – we promote that one. Only about 10 per cent of people in Turkey know Tiger but they certainly wouldn’t know anybody else.
When Tiger drove a ball across the Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul, that half an hour created something like $32m worth of media value. It was on 90 front pages around the world and that’s what he brings.
What’s really interesting is that as soon as Danny Willett knew Tiger was playing in Dubai, he wanted to know if there was any way he could play with him. He was so excited about the prospect. I know ticket sales went through the roof the day after they announced Tiger, and they’d already announced Rory, so it was definitely the Tiger factor.
Looking more generally at the state of the European Tour, there have been some major changes. What are your thoughts on the direction it is heading in?
I think the tour is doing most things well at the moment. I think its social media is exceptionally good. Keith Pelley has brought a load of energy and moved things forward quicker than anybody thought he could have. I think he’s prone to the odd error, but if you’re making as many decisions as he is, that’s bound to happen. But it’s better that way than making no decisions and making no headway.
It’s probably still a bit early to judge, especially with the Rolex Series. The players are going to be delighted because they’ve got a bunch of new money and bigger prize purses, and they aren’t too worried about the politics of everything. However, some of the promoters’ noses will be out of joint because some of them aren’t in it that should be. Everything’s got its challenges, but I think Pelley’s done an amazing job to move the tour from where it was to where it is now.
I also think some of the innovations have been quite good. He is quite happy to try stuff, he’s good at listening and he’s done what he said he’d do – provide an alternative to the PGA Tour for the top guys some of the time.
Our readers hear talk about fatigue and how many weeks the top players can play before they need a break. They might not have much sympathy. Can you shed some light on the demands of the top players?
Number one, they work much harder than they used to. They work harder in the gym and they work harder at the course. This makes a week on tour much more intensive than it used to be, and that takes the number of weeks they are able to compete down quite a lot. When I was on tour, you could have played 34 weeks a year without any problems because you barely hit a practice shot. In 1996, Lee Westwood played 18 straight weeks and won the last one of those, so even then it was nowhere near like it is now.
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Also, when you become a top player, you have more off-course stuff to do. Everyone wants a bit of time with you. It’s tougher than it used to be, but it’s probably not too tough… it’s actually a pretty good life!
What’s the key to keeping a stable of players happy?
It’s about being personal. It’s changed a lot – people aren’t as loyal as they used to be and other management companies are far more aggressive than before. It’s a changing world; I would say it’s getting a bit more like football agencies. But obviously there are exceptions to that rule.
Danny came to me the week after he won The Masters and said, “How about trying to sign something like a five-year contract?” But we’ve had people leave recently and they all do it for different reasons. It’s not like they have better offers or anything – some want to do their own thing with one person and other people want a collective bargaining situation because that has a lot of advantages.
What do you think of player appearance fees?
I think this is one of the issues with the Rolex Series. You’ve got $10m tournaments and not one promoter knows who is playing in their event. Who do you use to advertise it?
I think it’s very difficult, but the European Tour needs to follow the PGA Tour’s model. The PGA Tour encouraged tournaments to have ambassadors who then play in the event. I think that’s the way forward.
When they announced Tiger was playing here, ticket sales went up 50 per cent and they sold out corporate hospitality. That’s where appearance money works and my guess would be that Tiger and probably Rory, nobody else, pay for themselves. Then it’s a good deal, isn’t it? There’s nobody moaning that Tiger is getting paid here this week. Absolutely nobody.
If you’re a promoter, you’ve got to be clever about who you pick to promote your tournament. It might be Ian Poulter, who’s got 1.7m followers on Twitter. They love Lee Westwood in Asia because every time he plays, he plays really well. If you pay someone a fee to play, you want them there on the last day in the last two or three groups. You have to be smart about it.
Do you think we’ll start to see some of the big PGA Tour players competing regularly in Europe?
Maybe. Some of them like the idea of playing around the world and growing their brand. It’s always been a massive question mark for me why three or four don’t play at Wentworth. Why wouldn’t you come over and have the exposure? Someone like Rickie Fowler would be massive in London.
How important is it commercially for a player to be a character?
A player has to be something. I’m not sure you have to be a character, but you have to be something; you have to be identifiable as something that’s slightly different. You’ve got somebody like Beef who is so different, and that will appeal to some people. I’m not sure all the Sunningdale members think Beef’s the saviour for golf, but he will attract a certain amount of people!
Then Rory, he has an unbelievable appeal to young kids. You’ve also got people like Darren Clarke, smoking his cigar with his grey hair, lovely beard and all that stuff, and he’s made himself a bit of a legend. Then you get other guys who hit it miles. They are all interesting in different ways.
Is it something you consider when you meet players for the first time who you might represent?
There’s a little bit of that, but you don’t want them to be a show pony. You want them to be a player and then maybe turn into something more interesting. We’ve just started managing a lad called Dominic Foos, a German kid. You don’t get many like him because he seems to have pretty much everything – he’s already social media aware, he’s brand aware, he dresses well, he hits it unbelievably well and he behaves impeccably.
Who are the young guys coming through we should keep an eye out for?
Of all the tournament wins by your players, which do you look back on most fondly?
I have three. Obviously, Darren winning at St George’s was just huge because you probably thought it was never going to happen. He deserved it. The second one would be Lee winning the Indonesian Masters four years ago on his birthday to go to World No.1. And then obviously Danny, because it’s never happened to me before where I’ve actually stood with the lad winning The Masters as he watched himself do it on the TV!
When Louis Oosthuizen won at St Andrews, that was the first time my son had ever come to a Major with me. What people didn’t realise, but what I knew, was how good a wind player he is, so it wasn’t quite the surprise to me that it was to others. It was like Clarkey at St George’s. On the last morning, he was warming up and there was a 20mph crosswind. He was hitting knock-down 5-woods and he looked at me and said, “On days like this, I’m one of the best players in the world.” I thought, “If he’s thinking like that, I’m okay with it!”