Bargain-basement McIlroy can now name his own price

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 December, 2011, 12:00am

I am not a business major but what little I do know about the world of finance is pretty simple: buy low, sell high. So let's congratulate the Open organisers for a nifty piece of business. After the 2009 tournament they managed to lock up a promising 20-year-old from Northern Ireland for both the 2010 and 2011 events at a reasonable price of US$300,000.

The kid had an affinity for the place and had just finished playing in his third Hong Kong Open. He said all the right things about how he genuinely enjoyed both the city and the tournament. One year ago he tied for sixth with a score of 18 under; since that time a few things have gone right in his life. 'It's been an eventful year,' Rory McIlroy said, deadpan, this week.

McIlroy, 21, left here a year ago a promising golfer and returned this week as the hottest property in the game, if not all of sport. He had an epic meltdown at the Masters but instead of running and hiding he answered every question in an admirably accountable manner that endeared him even more to the public.

Stand-up sorts are in short supply these days in the world of sports, where making the big bucks often precludes passing the buck. The next major he played in was at the US Open, where he destroyed the field for his first major. Along the way he took up with a new girlfriend, Caroline Wozniacki, who also happens to be the number one female tennis player in the world, and also managed to remain largely unaffected by his burgeoning superstardom.

He was clearly the darling of this year's Open and when he holed out for a birdie from a bunker on the 18th yesterday, let's just say this may be the best US$300,000 the Open has ever spent.

But the high-profile girlfriend and US Open trophy were not the only things different about McIlroy circa 2011. Although he is all of 22 years old, this was an extremely exhausted McIlroy and he hardly tried to hide it.

'Just feeling generally lethargic and lacklustre,' he admitted. Understandably. 'I played the Dunhill Links [in Scotland] and then I flew straight from there to the Korean Open,' he said. 'Then I went on the China Golf Challenge for seven days and straight to Bermuda for the Grand Slam of Golf and then back to Shanghai for two weeks. So there's been a lot of travelling.'

There's been a lot of money, too. In that six-week period, it's estimated McIlroy made close to US$11 million through purses and appearance fees. His schedule has been beyond hectic and one has to wonder if it was the impetus in him making a change in his management.

'You definitely won't see me go on a stretch like I have done this year,' he said. 'But that's nothing to do with my previous management company. That was me just wanting to play. That was me really just saying, you know what, last part of the year I'm going to go and I am going to play and that's what I wanted to do. So there's no one to really blame but myself in that regard.'

McIlroy blindsided his former agent, Chubby Chandler,in October when he told him he wanted a fresh start and was leaving him for Horizon Sports Management, a Dublin-based agency that also manages good friend and former US Open champ Graeme McDowell.

According to some reports, he is still worth US$15 million to Chandler's International Sports Management Group because of a series of endorsement deals he has signed through to 2015.

There is obviously some serious coin around this engaging young man and what does all this mean to the Hong Kong Open? Well, again it means they made a hell of a deal two years ago locking him up for a paltry US$300,000 and it also means the champion will cost loads more to come back and defend his crown no matter how much he likes Hong Kong and this tournament.

In 2007, Padraig Harrington was offered US$150,000 to come to play before he won the British Open that summer. By the time his name was engraved on that trophy, his price had risen to US$750,000.

McIlroy is far more charismatic and popular in Hong Kong than Harrington and his wonder shot from the bunker on the 18th will already be viral. It's the kind of exposure you can't put a price on.

But his new management team will put a price on it and a steep one at that. This kid is the real deal. In all the years I have been around sports I have not seen a more likeable, engaging and co-operative superstar. It would be a pity if the rest he seeks next year includes a break from Hong Kong.



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