From Brian Keogh in Tucson
America is only just waking up to the fact that Rory McIlroy is a fabulous player but the future of Ireland’s teenage prince will not be limited to the manicured fairways of the PGA Tour.
Planet golf is the future home of the 19-year-old curly haired sensation whose run in this week’s Accenture Match Play Championships has sent his manager, Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, on a trip down memory lane to the 2000 event, when Darren Clarke beat Tiger Woods 4 and 3 in the 36-hole final.
But while Clarke celebrated each victory at La Costa with a couple of glasses of red wine and fine cigar, McIlroy was happy to munch a packet of crisps in the players lounge at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and wash it down with a can of Mountain Dew.
His clean-cut teenage image makes him a marketeers dream but Chandler is not looking to the PGA Tour but the world market and future rivalries with players such as 19-year-old New Zealander Danny Lee and the 17-year-old Japanese schoolboy Ryo Ishikawa, both of whom have already become the youngest winners in the history of the European and Japanese tours.
Asked about McIlroy’s potential explosion in the US, Chandler asked: “What does it have to be America? The players to watch are Danny Lee and Ishikawa. They are the two huge stars coming up because of their connection with Asia. So America doesn’t really matter and if Rory ends up with a rivalry with Ishikawa then it’s huge.
“Ernie Els just said, 'Your kid's good, isn't he.' And everyone likes him. He is just a nice kid and he is going to get such a big kid following that are going to start the Rory McIlroy Fan Club now as opposed to a simple website.”
Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh extended handshakes of congratulations to McIlroy earlier this week on his breakthrough win in the Dubai Desert Classic.
But American commentators such as Paul Azinger continued to questioned claim to a place in the world’s top 20 last night as a long list of potential sponsors was been left waiting in the wings by Chandler.
Determined to treat his new talent with kid gloves, the Englishman has decided that there will be no sponsorship overkill just yet and no move to the PGA Tour either as they eye the golf explosion in Asia and the global attraction of world schedule that combines the best of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai with the majors and World Golf Championships.
“There’s absolutely no point in him taking out his PGA Tour card,” Chandler said before the start of yesterday’s third round. “Suddenly he has got to play 15 tournaments. Suddenly they start dictating to you.
“Rory’s going to be young for a while yet and he’s going to want to go home and have a bit of time out with his pals. The money’s not an issue. I said to him last night. For me with you there’s a totally different set of rules than there is with anybody else because we’ve got time.
“I’ve got a couple of deals in the pipeline but we’ve just sort of said ‘yeah we’re interested but we’re all right’ because he doesn’t need more company days, he doesn’t need more commitments, he just wants to play golf.”
According to Chandler McIlroy will have outgrown a couple of his Irish sponsors in FL Partners and Bennett Construction by the end of the year and plans to replace them with bigger brands.
Instead, he is simply enjoying the realisation by the golf world that McIlroy is even better than anyone ever imagined.
Chandler said: “He knows what he’s doing, he’s not living the dream. He knows what’s going on and where he’s going. He’s unbelievably impressive. His feet are on the ground and his dad takes it all in his stride. It’s unbelievable.
“About four months ago we were saying that Rory’s better than everyone thinks he is. They didn’t realise how good he was. You guys in Ireland did but even in Britain they didn’t realise he hits the ball better than all these guys. They don’t realise he has a big game and he’s got gears, as you saw yesterday (against Hunter Mahan).
“It’s just great fun. And he plays like Seve. Maybe better.”
From Brian Keogh in Tucson