07 Feb 2023

Stuart Cage – How the poacher turned gamekeeper with new role at DP World Tour

Handling and understanding the requirements of any high-profile Tour player is challenging. Global schedules, sponsor demands, corporate days and most importantly staying in form, which is why a manager is pivotal to a player’s success.

That same formula is also key to the Tours, especially with LIV Golf knocking constantly on the door of high ranked DP World and PGA Tour players. Understanding their players’ demands and concerns has become vital during the uncertainty of the professional game. So it came as no surprise the DP World Tour knocked on Stuart Cage’s door to head their player liaison department.

For many of you Stuart might be an unknown, but you would struggle to find a better CV for the job. He started out as successful amateur having played in the 1993 Walker Cup before turning professional the following year. He was one of the first players to sign with Andrew ‘Chubby’ Chandler’s ISM Golf management company and roomed with Lee Westwood during the early years. Just one year after turning professional, he narrowly missed out to Sam Torrance in a play-off at the 1995 Irish Open.

Two years later he won the Cannes Open by five shots but that would be his only DP World Tour victory. As ISM continued to grow Stuart was struggling to maintain his Tour card and Chubby approached him to help on the management side, as they had just signed a young Irish talent called Rory McIlroy and ISM had become one of the largest golf management companies in the game.

During his time at ISM, Stuart was there when Rory won his first Major, and when his close friend Lee Westwood clinched the 2009 Race to Dubai along with securing the top spot on the Official World Golf Ranking.

ISM was always going to be Chubby’s baby, so when Octagon approached Stuart in 2014 to head up their new European and Asia golf management division, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to make a name for himself and move out of ISM’s shadow. After eight years as Director, Global Golf for Octagon it was time for one more challenge and this time the phone rang from the DP World Tour, who wanted someone that knew the players and how their management teams thought.

We caught up with Stuart at the DP World Tour Championship fresh off the back of his new appointment to find out more.

What are your first memories of playing on the DP World Tour after graduating from the Challenge Tour?

My first event was the Desert Classic in Dubai in ‘94. I had played in Tenerife on the Challenge Tour, but this time I came with a card knowing I had a full season. I landed at one in the morning and to be honest I had never really left the UK. I landed in Dubai, came over the Creek and it was just desert. I was like ‘where am I going here?!’ Then I pulled into the Royal Meridian which I think was the only hotel at the time from memory, and I just had the most spectacular week. Played the course and loved it. It was magical. I was up on the leaderboard and there were some big names playing, like Ernie Els. After that week I felt like I belonged on Tour. I enjoyed a good first season and came close to winning in Germany. Progressed well, and then by the end of 1997 I felt like my game was a bit limited.

When you say limited, do you mean you thought your ability was maxed out?

I just felt the way I played the game was a bit restricted. To put a bit of context on that, I used to aim left and hit like a low fade. I couldn’t hit a draw whatsoever. That had its positives as I wasn’t a low shooter, I did well when it was hard going, or when the weather conditions were tough. I was good at hitting fairways, wasn’t that long, but good at finding greens. I was at my best when the conditions would soften. If you had to shoot 20 under I was nowhere. I was good at keeping it under the wind when pars meant something. The dream was to make a Ryder Cup and I thought if I was to do that I was going to need to change it a bit, like hitting the ball a bit higher.

All I wanted to do with the game was just keep aiming in the same place all the time, and I did that. I did eventually manage to develop a bit of a draw, but I couldn’t see the draw under pressure. I started hitting it all over the golf course and I persisted with it. I’ll say to the lads on tour now that whatever you do with your game, whatever you might want to change, you’ve got to maintain a shot pattern. You’ve got to maintain something that you know, I can stand up, I can hit it left or right, or I can hit some sort of shape. The moment that you’re not sure which one you’re going to win, you’re absolutely done.

How did you try and overcome those struggles on the course?

I remember going to see a psychologist and he said to me, “When you are looking down this hole it’s filled with water on the left. If you think about hitting in the water on your left, you are going to hit it in the water on your left.” And I said, “You’ve got that wrong. I’ve got control of the club face. My problem is, I’m playing at such a high level, I’ve got to believe I can hit it within 10 yards in that water without going in it. My problem at the minute is I’m not going to hit it in the water. Trouble is I’m going to hit it 40 yards right of the water and at this level, I am not good enough.” That came to an end pretty quickly. It was a two-hour drive and after 10 minutes I thought, ‘this ain’t going to work’ so I drove back home.

Besides those difficult times, when you look back at that period, were there any other standout moments?

I played in the Spanish Open with Seve leading in the third round. I was 23 years old at time and stood on the tee with him! Seve played horrific and shot 69. I spent the day watching him and shot 76. How good was that, going out with Seve at the Spanish Open! You can’t buy it!

What about your transition into player management and your relationship with Chubby Chandler and working for ISM?

By the late 90s I had a couple of years where I was really struggling. My exemption had gone from winning and didn’t do well at Q-School. Chubby had managed me and he needed help. At the time I had done a little bit of teaching and I was going down that route, so he asked me and I agreed to do it. I spent a lot of time with Westwood. We’d been good mates because we’d room together, and I was best man at his wedding. I was there from when he was in a slump to making it to World Number One. During those years I also learnt the business from Chubby, which was great.

When managing Westwood and then eventually Rory McIlroy, what was it like behind the scenes?

You could be on your own at a tournament, but you’d have 20 players there you’d be working with. You’d get up in the morning and see them before they go out. You’d have a couple of meetings, and you’d see them when they finished. You just properly looked after them. The more Rory started to progress, the more time I would spend with Rory. The guys loved the camaraderie of the European Tour. There would always be someone in the hotel bar to go down and have a drink with. One of the big things about coming out on Tour is feeling comfortable. Feeling like you can walk out on the range and say hello.

You were at the top of player management at the time with Chubby – what was it like when some started to go their own way?

Graeme McDowell went first in 2009, he was one of the first top-end players to move. Then Rory goes his own way. We had a long chat about how the future would be. I decided that I would stay with Chubby. Rory now has great people around him – business people – who he met in the early days who I still know well. He’s got a good set up.

After time working for ISM, you then went to head up Octagon Golf Management before recently heading up player liaison at the DP World Tour – how has that all happened?

There was no intention for doing it, to be honest. The Tour rang me up and said ‘Look, we’ve got this opportunity, it’s an important time at the Tour and we feel like we need to add this in’. David Park was doing a phenomenal job to be fair, but the job I know now… I don’t know how he’s done it if I’m honest. I left school at 16 years old to be a golfer. I’ve learned a bit over the years, different bits and pieces, but let’s face it, I’ve probably got pretty limited skill set. Am I ever going to get an opportunity to do something different in life like this?

The decision was, I either keep doing what I’m doing at Octagon and work away and that’s it, or do I make the decision to join the Tour? There were a lot of discussions and it was a really, really hard decision because as a manager you build up a strong relationship with your players and you invest in what they’re doing. There are certain aspects of the business I didn’t enjoy, but a lot of it is great, and especially helping them improve, watching them get better, just knowing that you’ve been on that journey with them. I really enjoyed that aspect and I felt this role at the Tour there would provide the chance to genuinely help players.

What’s the difference between being a player at the Tour compared to the role you are in now?

The Tour is the players. I’ve come in as a manager. As a player, you’re focused on playing. You don’t really take a lot in, you don’t take a lot of notes. You see the referee, you see this and that, but you don’t really know what goes into it. Then as a manager, you feel like you get a bit more of an idea. Since I’ve come through the door, there’s so much that goes into putting on an event. I think if you knew that as a player, it would change your experience a bit.

How do you balance your feelings and current job with the situation that professional golf currently finds itself in? Do you think there’s a path with LIV Golf?

I hope so. Whether we play a slightly short season and they can think it around it. I don’t know. I mean, you really hope so. The thing that I love about golf is that it’s not about anybody else’s opinion. Nobody has to like you. There is nothing stopping you from being a club golfer to making your way to where you want to be. As long as you behave yourself within reason, there’s no set path. Because nobody’s going to turn around and say, ‘you’re not doing this right’, the pathway is this way.

My worry is that if it doesn’t work in that way and all of a sudden it becomes somebody’s opinion, I think we lose the purity of the sport. When I was working with Rory, or working with Westy, we’d go for a game of golf. I could win it over 18 holes. I could shoot 69. I’m so far away from where they are, but that’s golf isn’t it? That’s part of the reason golf will struggle to find a shorter format because anybody can win on any given day.

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