Clarke, the Ryder Cup cash and the green-paved road to the Champions Tour

Clarke, the Ryder Cup cash and the green-paved road to the Champions Tour
Chubby Chandler and Darren Clarke. Picture via

Chubby Chandler and Darren Clarke. Picture via

The past few seasons have been lean ones for Darren Clarke on the golf course but landing the 2016 European Ryder Cup captaincy could be worth up to €2.7m in endorsement income to the 46-year old over the next 18 months, possibly much more, easing him to his 50th birthday, when he becomes eligible to join the lucrative US Champions Tour.

The Ulsterman has made more than €20m on the European Tour alone since he turned professional in 1990 and multiples of that again off the course.  He’s spent plenty too — think of the Cuban cigars, the private jets, the sports cars. So many sports cars. 

And yet when he won The Open, and the accompanying millions in prize money and endorsement bonuses, at the age of 42 in 2011, it was surprising to hear his manager say that “the timing could not have been better.”

“Darren has had a big cash flow problem,” Andrew “Chubby” Chandler was quoted as saying in the Daily Mail.

Clarke denied the truth of that story just a few days later, his €197,000 Ferrari 612 Scaglietti still warm in the car park outside following his speedy trip down from Portrush to Killarney for the Irish Open.

Still, the story brought back memories from the summer of 2002, when Chandler told The Independent's Brian Viner that "...his philosophy is to spend the money before he earns it," Chandler confides. "He buys a car, then goes out and earns the money for it. He completed on his house the week before he won [this year's English Open] at the Forest of Arden."

Whatever the exact state of his affairs at the time, he was a spender. An annual cigar bill of $25,000 is one thing, not to mention the wine, the cars and the other toys. He’d bought a Challenger 601 jet with his International Sports Management stablemate Lee Westwood at the top of the market in 2006 and like everyone else with investments, he was hit hard by the economic crash of 2008. 

He lost what Chandler said was "an awful lot of money” before getting rid of the cash-guzzling aircraft in 2010 when a move from the UK to Portrush with his young family led to more problems as he struggled to sell his €5.4m Surrey home. 

Winning The Open immediately solved all cash flow problems as he pocketed €1m for winning the Claret Jug and a €2.2m bonus from Mike Ashley, the millionaire owner of Sports Direct International.

In February 2003, Ashley bought the Dunlop Slazenger brand for £40 million and two years later he made a deal with Chandler to sign up Clarke, Lee Westwood and David Howell to wear the Dunlop brand for free.

In return, Ashley promised to pay Clarke and his ISM stable colleagues £2m in any year they win a major. So far, Clarke is the only one to collect.

Over the coming weeks and months, 46-year old Clarke will sit down with Chandler to assess the commercial opportunities that lie ahead. But industry experts estimate that the Ryder Cup captaincy is now worth in the region of £2m (€2.7m) to a player of Clarke’s stature.

Like the Ryder Cup players themselves, the skipper does not get paid for his services. His expenses are reimbursed by the European Ryder Cup organisation but as he will also enjoy more air time than ever before, his existing sponsors will benefit greatly from the increased exposure and new backers will be clambering aboard his Ryder Cup gravy train. 

While Tony Jacklin said many times that he made no more than £50,000 “and a crate of Johnnie Walker whisky” from his captaincies, one only has to look at the growth of Paul McGinley’s sponsorship portfolio over the past few years to see just how lucrative the Ryder Cup job has now become.

To a solid line up of sponsors such as TaylorMade Adidas Golf, Ashworth, Investec, BMW, Rolex and Allianz, he has added associations with Sky Sports and EY (Ernst and Young), boosted his course design business and made dozens of personal appearances at business lunches or conferences both in Europe and abroad. A five figure fee is considered the norm. 

Clarke is already a far bigger brand than McGinley and boasts sponsorship deals with luxury watchmaker Audemars Piguet, Dunlop Sport, TaylorMade-adidas Golf, The Astbury (resort) and Your Golf Travel. Now all he has to do is win in America.

According to Steve Martin, Global CEO of M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, £2m “is not far off what is possible” with more to come in the event of a successful captaincy.

Chandler does not dismiss the £2m figure as outlandish either and expects his first big client to do very well from the captaincy.

“I think commercially it will be very good for Darren because he's so very good with the corporate world,” Chandler said in an email.

As McGinley discovered, Ryder Cup Europe LLP is very hands on when it comes to its partners — Rolex, BMW, Johnnie Walker, EY and Standard Life — not to mention a long list of official suppliers.

Use of the Ryder Cup emblems is strictly controlled and conflicts of interest are quickly addressed.

Clarke already has a conflict between watch brands Audemars Piguet and the official Ryder Cup timekeeper Rolex. But it’s something that will be sorted out easily, his manager said. 

“I think he will seek counsel from lots of people and then put his own stamp on it,” Chandler said of the challenge ahead.

Clarke will be 48 when the final putt drops on 2 October 2016 and while he will still have two years to go before e’s eligible or the Champions Tour, time will not drag.

“I think he will do well for the next 18 months and few years after it,” his manager added. “It will only help to build his profile and with a bit of commentary work to come after it, it will get him to 50 in no time.”

The Clarke-Chandler partnership is a unique one and never boring.

“I have no contracts with Darren,” Chandler told me for a piece about his signing of Rory McIlroy back in 2007. “What am I going to gain from tying him in for four years, or two years or whatever. If it goes wrong it really goes wrong. But we would have to make an incredible f*** up for that to happen. Player management is difficult with people you like. It is unbelievably difficult with people you don't like.”

Asked if it was till about the money for the stars of the ISM show at that time - Ernie Els, Lee Westwood and Clarke, Chandler looked aghast and said: “Yes it is, of course is it. They have unbelievably high maintenance. Unbelievably high. The planes, the houses and the cars and the watches. I mean Jesus Christ, they have about 40 watches each. They like their toys and they like living the life of superstars. They have to keep making.”

That’s where Chubby comes to the fore. He assesses every offer that comes in and decides whether it is worth the effort. Often, the sums involved are very serious indeed and that means a large slice of commission for Chandler, who likes the nicer things in life.

As does Clarke, as Chandler soon realised when he met the then 21-year old in the summer of 1989 after Dubliner lawyer Dougie Heather pointed out that he had a young Ulsterman looking for advice on the pro game.

Of that first meeting with Clarke, Chandler recalled: “I remember it well. He was wearing this big, cashmere Hugo Boss overcoat and I remember thinking that this kid had a lot of style.

(Check out this image of a 20-21-year old Clarke take in 1989, possibly during the South of Ireland Championship at Lahinch).

“The only thing was, it was the end of August and the coat looked a bit out of place. I wondered, ‘How can he afford this? But it turned out he couldn't afford it - he just had an overdraft, same as me.

“Well I had never had a young lad turn pro and I was interested in seeing how I could help because I had had 15 years experience as pro and had already made all the mistakes this lad was going to make.”