Undercover Tour Pro: When Having An Agent Isn't Worth It
Photo illustration by John Ueland
Last year I fired my agent. It was on a Sunday. I signed my card, and instead of packing up in the locker room, I suggested the two of us get a table on the clubhouse terrace and order drinks. I think he knew it was coming. He reps other players, and I still see him out here. We'll talk pleasantries. He's got a few politely practiced lies.
Really, M is a decent guy. He was with me during the peak playing days of my career, when I was single, and he was fun to pal around with. Sunday nights are sleepy in most cities, but you can find action if you're with the right running dog. Of course, most of our time together was just chilling, grabbing dinner or driving to the airport. When the day is done, no matter how you played, it's nice having at least loose plans to connect with someone. Ideally, they already know your birdies and bogeys, so you can choose to talk about them or not.
For a long time that person for me was M, but then I got married, and my wife started traveling with me more.
I used to sort of relish telling people to "talk to my agent." It sounded cool, and those magic words could make anyone I didn't want to deal with immediately disappear. It was after about my second win that walking around at a tour event got unpredictable. When you don't know if a trip from the parking lot to the chipping green is going to take three minutes or 30, it's hard to plan your day. Then you've lost control. Practice time starts to revolve around media and sponsor obligations instead of the other way. Thursdays would come, and I'd feel relieved because I knew no one would bother me once the tournament started. M was perceptive. All he needed was the slightest hint, and he'd throttle back appointments or be there to walk with me.
But an agent's first priority is themselves. This is true of anyone in business. That's why I tell younger players they also need a lawyer and an accountant. Everyone under you should be performing checks and balances. Also, go with an agent who won't accept a dime until you make it to the PGA Tour. If he wants a piece of your $30,000 Web.com Tour equipment deal, tell him to hit the road. It's a classic sleazy move: An agent gets a young player to change just so he can collect an easy six grand. Unless a player has some quality that makes him a marketer's dream, club deals are standardized, and you don't need an agent to land one. On the PGA Tour, pretty much everybody except the superstars gets $250,000 per year, plus the same incentivized bonuses for winning.
I used to pay my agent 20 percent of the value of my deals, and then we made it 10 percent. We both knew he was becoming superfluous. I've had the same two non-endemic sponsors on my shirt and bag for years. I've developed close relationships with the "golf" representatives of these two corporations, and so effectively, these two guys have become my agents. If the particulars around an outing need to be arranged, they email me directly. In my 20s, this might've been too much of a distraction, but at this stage of my career, I prefer being in charge of my affairs.
I could be wrong, but I feel like there are more agents out here than ever before. The very top players absolutely need a person or even a team negotiating on their behalf. There's just so much money at stake. But I foresee a general correction, just as we see in other industries in a dynamic economy. More golfers are going to realize what I have: Being agent-free isn't a bad way to be. —With Max Adler