SHANGHAI – Rory McIlroy felt he was ready for a fresh start when he decided to leave longtime agent Chubby Chandler, a decision he said Wednesday was the most difficult of his career.
"It's the toughest conversation to sit down with a person who's been there for you the last 10 years and tell him you want to change things up a little bit," McIlroy said.
In the midst of a breakthrough season, and just four months after his record-setting win in the U.S. Open, the 22-year-old McIlroy surprised those around him last month by announcing he was leaving Chandler for Horizon Sports Management, a Dublin-based agency that also manages good friend and fellow U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell.
The decision was a shock to Chandler, who never had an inkling his star client wanted to leave International Sports Management.
Those searching for answers didn't get many from McIlroy on the eve of the HSBC Champions. He repeated that he was interested in a "fresh view on things."
"All I want to do is concentrate on golf and win golf tournaments," McIlroy said. "I feel up to this point, I haven't won enough. I feel I needed to make a few decisions to change that."
He insists this decision was not made overnight, though he couldn't say how long he had been thinking about such a big change. It helped that he has known Conor Ridge, who runs Horizon, for many years and was impressed with how he handled McDowell.
McIlroy broke the news to Chandler on their way home from the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda.
"The hardest decision I've ever had to make in my life," McIlroy said.
Chandler recently had signed McIlroy to yet another endorsement with Santander Bank in Spain, which the agent described only as "big money, proper money." He also negotiated deals with Oakley, Jumeirah Estates and Titleist.
The timing was reminiscent of when Tiger Woods switched agents from Hughes Norton, who negotiated blockbuster deals for Woods when he turned pro, to Mark Steinberg after two years.
"Sometimes to go forward in your career, you need to make a decision," McIlroy said. "I thought it was a decision I needed to make. I felt like for four years, Chubby was the best guy. But sometimes to progress you need to have a different view and a fresh view of things. It's about me trying to play my best golf. That's all there is to it.
"With a new environment around me, it might enable me to play even better."
McIlroy played the PGA Tour in 2010 until deciding he wanted to be only a European Tour member, and that the FedEx Cup playoffs were too much golf for him to play right after the last major. He said in August he was going to join the U.S. tour for 2012, and this time go into the playoffs with a better attitude.
While he didn't give up much, his comments Wednesday were the most extensive since his break from Chandler.
"I was surprised at how much of a big deal was made out of it," McIlroy said. "These things happen all the time. With me sometimes, it's made into a bigger deal. I just changed management companies, and that's all there is to it. It's not that big of a decision. It's not that big of a deal. We'll still remain friends, and it's always going to be that way."