Rory McIlroy has been mired in a legal battle for the last year. The Northern Irish star sued his former agency Horizon Sports Management last October over commissions involved with his massive Nike contract. The lawsuit made headlines – as all things McIlroy tend to do – but didn’t seem to bother the young man as he chased two majors at the close of the 2014 season.
Now, however, he’s taking a step back from golf. McIlroy announced Monday that he’ll skip the upcoming BMW Masters and the WGC-HSBC Champions to focus on his legal issues. The world no. 1 and Horizon failed to settle out of court.
The Rory McIlroy legal dispute is in full force.
It’s difficult to assess how this lawsuit affected McIlroy or the perception of him. He had long been loyal to his roots. He started with Chubby Chandler, the popular, affable, agent who calls Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Louis Oosthuizen Charl Schwartzel, and Ernie Els clients. McIlroy split with Chandler in 2011 because he wanted to focus on playing state side and he felt that Chandler steered him away from that path.
Either way, it came off as a somewhat petulant move. Given Chandler’s clientele, he was and remains one of the more respected names in golf. McIlroy joined Horizon, a Dublin based agency (again, roots) alongside fellow Irishman Graeme McDowell.
But McIlroy’s massive Nike contract changed everything, for him, his career, and his associates. When the disagreement over commissions arose, McIlroy, still quite young, felt taken advantage of. Not to mention another sponsor Oakley alleged that the move to Nike constituted a breach in contract. McIlroy simply wanted to maximize his earning potential and that undermined his “good boy from a small country” appeal. He looked, for lack of a better word, greedy.
The lawsuit also caused a bitter rift between not only him and Horizon, but also him and McDowell. The two had left Chandler together to join Horizon. McDowell remains a Horizon client. Both players shrugged off questions about the lawsuit entering this year’s Ryder Cup, but the awkwardness was palpable.
Not until now, however, did the legal troubles stop McIlroy from playing golf. The question is, how much of that decision is tied to the lawsuit?
He’ll likely have to testify in court, but there’s an obvious out here. No golfer likes to play in the late fall and early winter months. This is especially true after a Ryder Cup year when golf consumes the lives of these players from January until October. A two week break represents the offseason for most (remember the Frys.com Open kicked off the 2015 season on October 9), while the top guys take an additional week or two off. But that’s hardly enough to recharge after all of the travel, practice rounds, and endorsement appearances. McIlroy is essentially extending his offseason with a convenient excuse.
Then again, no one wants to be involved in a legal battle. That goes ten-fold for one with millions of dollars at stake. So maybe it’s unfair to suggest that McIlroy would welcome the break. He’d much rather play golf than sit in a courtroom or spend hours with lawyers. But if he had to do the latter, well, this is the perfect time of year for it.