The sad postscript to the story is that as the new lovers were walking up the hill toward the pot of gold, a broken lad was putting out on the 18th green. Rory McIlroy actually shrank down the putter handle on his final putt, now little more than a hormonal adolescent whose shirt first flapped out of the back of his trousers when he ran up a wretched seven on the 10th hole.
Looking back on the tiny putt he missed to win the 1970 British Open, Doug Sanders said a few years later that sometimes a whole minute would pass when he didn’t think of that putt. What must it have been like for McIlroy in Augusta after the Masters?
Humiliated and lonely, Rory needed a friend. For once mum and dad hadn’t travelled to the Masters, so you hoped against hope that Chandler, also McIlroy’s agent, would be there to wrap up Rory when he walked off that final green. But the bear had already exited stage left.
As a dad, as a human being, I want to think that Chandler would have sat down with Rory for a long, long time that night in Augusta. Who am I kidding? There were deals to be done, phone calls to be made, television to be fed.
It does make you wonder for the future of some of these kids, though. Tiger Woods has been all but broken by the savage celebrity of professional sport. I had hoped that Adam Scott might win the Masters and find redemption, because a couple of years ago he found out what an empty life the professional sportsman can lead.
The same happened to Sergio Garcia. Where were the agents then?
The same lonely kids could end up on the Desert road in New Zealand. Would anyone care to predict where Sonny Bill Williams will be in 30 years’ time? At the moment he is managed by a man called Khoder Nasser, aka the Don King of the dunnies. One stand-up comedian asks what you would do if you found yourself in a lift with Nasser, Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden and had a gun with only two bullets in. Answer: shoot Nasser twice.
Nasser might wittily reply: “Like any good agent I’m always prepared to take a bullet for my clients.” But is he?
Nasser’s principal role in life is to extract as much money as possible for his clients. He doesn’t care what the long-term implications for a sport might be. He doesn’t care what the long-term implications for the All Blacks are if rich French club owners want to pay wages above the reality of the market.
Many of the top All Blacks are managed by a group called Essentially, who also act for the New Zealand Rugby Union. It would be easy for Essentially to leverage deals on the back of the players they represent and exclude others.
When Lou Thompson, a director at Essentially, was asked: “What do you do?” he replied: “Good point, what do we do?” He then kept returning to the mantra of “adding value”. But adding value for an individual sportsman is potentially ruinous for a sport.
Several football clubs in England – think Leeds United – have gone bust because of agents stoking the market. Sir Alex Ferguson complained: “We are dealing with agents who are living in the pockets of players.”
Sir Alex appeared to be referring to Paul Stretford, Wayne Rooney’s agent. Stretford, a man who meets with gangland enforcers, Aussie cage fighters and dodgy solicitors, is a former vacuum cleaner salesman who set up shop in his own basement.
Jonah Lomu’s former agent won a Butlin’s talent contest as a stand-up comedian.
Thompson wanted to be a sports broadcaster and dreamed up his agency on a hammock in South America. Nasser has an arts degree. Andy Haden made his name as a rugby player. They are all out there, “adding value”.
There is a great moment in Jerry Maguire, the film about sports agents, when Maguire walks past a TV playing an episode of Hawaii Five-O. Jack Lord, aka Steve McGarrett, is saying: “There are dangerous animals in this world and some of them walk on two feet. Society – and that means you, you and you – needs protection from these warped minds.”
Are you sure you want these sharks in suits feeding in New Zealand waters?