Agent Andrew “Chubby” Chandler has defended the decision by world No 1 Lee Westwood and No 7 Rory McIlroy to skip The Players Championship at Sawgrass.
Speaking to CNN’s Shane O’Donoghue ahead of this week’s Avantha Masters in New Delhi, the founder of the International Sports Management (ISM) stable believes the $9.5m event, which will be played from May 12-15, is not the “fifth Major” but only the ninth or tenth most important tournament in professional golf for his players.
Q Your key players like Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy have spoken about their reluctance to participate in the so-called fifth major at Sawgrass. Can you talk to me about your support for them and how you are going about dealing with the public issues involved in that?
A.C. You just said the fifth major, I think when it was played at the end of March, it was getting to be the fifth major. I think the moved it to the middle of May and it is about the 10th most important tournament in the world now because it doesn’t have a place and it doesn’t fit in people’s schedules.
The build up to the Masters isn’t there any more. And I think that’s one of the reasons why Rory and Lee feel that it’s not a priority for them to put on their CV. It would be great if they won it, but they would rather win a World Championship event or a Major, or something of that ilk. So that places it down to about nine or ten.
I’m not saying it isn’t (the fifth major) for an American. For an American it’s going to be the fifth [major] probably. But we are brought up on World Golf Championships being more important and that was their thinking, that was the way they put their schedule out and unfortunately they can’t play every week.
Chandler and the PGA Tour have not seen eye to eye for many years. At the 2009 WGC-Accenture Match Play championship, he said that Rory McIlroy would not take up his US Tour card in 2010 because of the excessive demands of the US Tour.
“There’s absolutely no point in him taking out his PGA Tour card,” Chandler said in Tucson. “Suddenly he has got to play 15 tournaments. Suddenly they start dictating to you.”
McIlroy played just one full season in the US before deciding not to renew his membership this year.
There was also anger from the ISM boss when Westwood, world No 4 at the time, was initially refused a sponsor’s invitation for last year’s St Jude Classic in Memphis because he is sponsored by UPS, a major rival for PGA Tour sponsors FedEx.
The tournament eventually relented and Westwood won the event, which was played the week before the US Open.
Chandler said: “It’s a good job every sponsor doesn’t behave like that. It’s irritating and quite pathetic – all because of one little UPS on his shirt. It’s not even on his head. He is No 4 in the world and a decent lad. You would think he would be a good addition to the field. They don’t bend over backwards to help the Europeans over there.”
Since then relations between the PGA Tour and ISM have deteriorated.
When McIlroy was beaten to the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year award in by Rickie Fowler last December, Westwood went on the attack through Twitter and accused the Americans of punishing his stable mate for giving up his card.
The Englishman wrote:
“Sorry 140 letters is not going to be enough for this rant! Just seen Ricky Fowler has been given rookie of the year! Yes he’s had a good year but rory mcilroy 3rd in 2 majors and an absolute demolition of the field at quail hollow! Oh yes and on the winning Ryder cup team! Please! Is this yet another case of protectionism by the pga tour or are they so desperate to win something! Wouldn’t have something to do with Rory not joining the tour next year? Maybe the PGA tour just employs the same voting process as FIFA! Come on , fairs fair!”
As non-members of the PGA Tour, Westwood and McIlroy are allowed to play only 10 PGA Tour events, seven of which are taken up by the four major championships and three World Golf Championship events played in the United States.
Late last year, the PGA Tour added a stipulation that The Players Championship would not count against the 10, giving them the option to play 11 events.
But Westwood and McIlroy have decided not to take up that option in a case that highlights the battle between the US and European tours for the game’s top players.
“I’d go over for The Players if I could play in the tournament the week before, but I don’t want to pitch up at The Players cold, having not played for four weeks since [the Masters at] Augusta,” Westwood said. “So I’ll play a couple of tournaments on the European Tour instead.”
Chandler believes that the world’s two main tours should try to find a way to compromise and allow the game’s top players to play when and where they want.
Speaking in Abu Dhabi earlier this year, the former European Tour player said: “This sums up what’s wrong with golf at the moment. There are too many people in power thinking only about their own interests rather than what’s good for the game. It does my head in to think the world No. 1 in his sport can’t play in a tournament he wants to play in, and which the sponsor wants him to play in.”
Relations between ISM and the PGA Tour might not be warm but the man who owns the company believes it is up to Finchem and his European counterpart George O’Grady to find a way to keep everyone happy.
Q This is clearly not music to the ears of Tim Finchem, the Commissioner of the PGA Tour, how do you think you are going to defend yourself to him or what is the communication going to be like between the two of you when you meet in Tucson?
A.C. We have had a bit of communication - not particularly with Tim himself but with his office - and I have just put our case forward. We don’t have a case. We have a choice and the boys have a choice. It’s not my choice, it’s their choice. And the TPC didn’t fit their schedules this year and that was the choice they made.
It is probably down to Mr O’Grady and Mr Finchem to get their heads together on how to make the TPC a tournament that people can’t afford to miss. And I think if they did that, and then they grouped the BMW [PGA Championship] at Wentworth with the same sort of category, you’d have one in America and one in Europe that people were encouraged to play in.
The BMW PGA offers just 64 world ranking points to the winner compared to 80 for the champion at Sawgrass, who also earns a three-year invitation to the Masters, a three-year exemption for The Open and an exemption to the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship for that year.
The champion at Wentworth earns a three year exemption into the Open, a place in the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational and WGC – HSBC Champions and a five-year European Tour exemption.