As Modest! Golf establishes itself on the golf scene, Paul Gallagher talks exclusively to Niall Horan and the team behind the brand to get the rundown on their vision for the management company with a close eye on the stars of the future.
There is nothing modest about Modest! Golf Management’s ambitions as this new kid on the block with a rich pedigree in music, entertainment and people management looks to make its mark in golf. Much has been made of Modest! Golf in a short time with the majority of the focus, hardly surprisingly, on a certain Mr. Niall Horan. As One Direction continue their sabbatical from touring and recording, the Mullingar corner of the boy band made no secret of his love of the game of golf.
Horan was frequently spotted striding the fairways with people like his close friend Rory McIlroy and other high profile names. If not donning the white boiler suit at Augusta for the par three tournament or in full swing at European Tour headquarters in Wentworth playing in the BMW Championship Pro-Am, he was in attendance at this year’s Irish Open and Northern Ireland Open making connections and networking.
First impressions might suggest Horan is a young star enjoying the carefree, playboy lifestyle while taking time out away from the day job. But that would be misleading for he has serious ambitions as he and the team at Modest! Golf have already made the golf industry sit up and take notice of their new “boutique management company”.
“We will work very hard for them and have some fun along the way but in return we expect our players to dedicate themselves and also represent us well” – Niall Horan
“It is no secret we want to establish ourselves in the golf market,” explains Horan, who along with Mark McDonnell and Ian Watts are directors of Modest! Golf. “We continue to build relationships with the various governing bodies and are looking to recruit great young talent who we can work with to ensure they maximise their talent and achieve great things in the professional game.
“Long term, we want to develop a small, very talented stable of players across all levels,” adds Horan, who works closely with Watts on a day-to-day basis to identify potential players to join Modest! Golf.
For context it makes sense to take a step back for a moment. As the name suggests, Modest! Golf evolved from Modest! – the hugely successful management company in the world of music with artists such as Olly Murs, Little Mix and One Direction on the books. It is this younger, upbeat culture, combined with people management skills they wanted to bring to the golf market.
“Bearing in mind entertainment is our heritage, we consider Modest! Golf a young, cool company,” explains McDonnell, who joined Modest! after years working for TaylorMade Adidas. “We have no aspirations to become a large management company. We’re a boutique company and want to sign a small number of key talent and really support them on their journey.
“We believe some of the younger players will be naturally drawn to us. Hopefully they can see we are offering something a little different and we also feel we’ve arrived in the market at the right time.
“Everyone in golf right now is asking ‘how can we grow the game? How can we make it cooler and younger?’”
Modest! Golf’s first signing was confirmed at the start of August when Italy’s promising teenager Guido Migliozzi joined the “Modest! Golf family”.
“Guido is a great young man with a fantastic work ethic who has had a very successful amateur career,” explained Watts, who in a former life was director of sports marketing at TaylorMade for over 20 years and was responsible for signing players like Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Ernie Els and European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke.
So why did someone like Watts decide to change tack away from an established and successful career? “I felt Modest! offered something different to the industry at a time when the golf world needs it. They are passionate about growing the game and so am I,” adds Watts. “They look after many successful names in the world of entertainment and it’s these skills along with what Mark and I can bring from our background in golf which we believe makes for such an exciting mix.”
“I have looked after players at all levels from elite amateur through to Major champions and I’m delighted Niall invited me to join the Modest! team.”
McDonnell has also been immersed in golf from a young age. He and his family are lifelong friends of newly crowned Olympic champion Justin Rose, who his brother manages.
“The Olympics worked out so well. The way Justin and Henrik Stenson battled it out to the last was unbelievable. I think it was a great boost for the game and players will be wanting to play in Tokyo in four years’ time,” said McDonnell, who picked up Rose from the airport on his return from Rio.
Modest! might have appeared on the scene quickly but the distinct impression is they are happy to take their time to ensure they sign the right players.
“It is important for us to sign a player who is in keeping with our business. We are very keen on looking at the next generation of golfer. It is important for the player to choose the right management company, but it’s also important for Modest! to work with the right player and make sure both parties are right for each other. The attitude, work ethic and determination has to be right. That’s why we take our time,” says McDonnell, delighted with Migliozzi as their debut signing.
“That’s why we signed Guido. He’s a 19-year-old fresh talent. Guido comes from a really supportive family and we have a strong family ethos at Modest! He works hard and has a genuine passion for the game. He has been one of the best Italian amateurs for a few years now.
The Modest! team spent time with Guido in his homeland recently and this month will bring him to the Ryder Cup in Hazeltine, Minnesota “where he can learn from the players and be in and around that environment”.
Closer to home Modest! got involved with the Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm Castle and became the tournament’s Official Management Partners.
“We always wanted to get involved with the Challenge Tour and put our money where our mouth is, so to speak,” explained McDonnell. “All along Niall has been quoted as saying he really wants to support the next generation of golfer. We wanted demonstrate that.
“The NI Open gave us the opportunity to invite exciting young players like Tom McKibbin to this year’s event. Tom has four of five years before he will even think about a management company but we wanted to give him the chance to experience tournament golf and learn from it.
“I’d also heard what a first class event the NI Open has been for a number of years. It was described to me as the closest thing you will get to a main European Tour event and for us that’s exactly what we wanted to be involved with,” added McDonnell, who was based in Northern Ireland for seven years with TaylorMade, during which time he got to know Gary Henry and the team at Galgorm.
McDonnell received a call from Tom’s dad, Robin McKibbin, after the NI Open to say his son took so much out of his week competing at Galgorm.
“Tom is a great representation of what golf needs to be right now; getting into the game so young and with great support from his family. He’s almost become a role model for that young teenage group whereas Rory [McIlroy] is another few steps further along the journey as one of the global icons of the game.
“Tom’s peers can relate to him and believe their golfing goals are more achievable and realistic. It’s like small stepping stones; if they can get to Tom’s level then they can get to the next stage, then hopefully one day they can think about their dreams and aspire to reach Rory’s level.”
Modest! intend to remain involved with the NI Open and to also continue working with the Challenge Tour in the years ahead.
It will come as no surprise Modest! already keep a close eye on the Irish market, which is like conveyor belt when it comes to producing exciting young players, both in the boys and girls game.
“Ireland continues to produce amazing talent. Of course it’s an important market for us and obviously it’s Niall’s home. In my time in Northern Ireland I got to know a lot of the players like John Ross Galbraith, Reeve Whitson and other. I consider these guys to be friends and watch their careers closely,” says McDonnell, who enjoyed a round at Whitson’s home course Royal County Down alongside good friend Harry Diamond and Horan.
“Up until recently, Niall had never played links golf. After that X-Factor audition in Dublin he left home at 15 and struggled to get back to Ireland as often as he would have liked due to his commitments with One Direction. In the last couple of months his first links games were St Andrews (Old Course), Trump Turnberry, Royal Portrush and Royal County Down. Nice introduction to links golf,” enthused McDonnell, who is rumoured to have lost more balls than he cares to mention and the money in Newcastle.
On a serious note, what do the key players at Modest! consider their unique selling point to be, especially when entering such a competitive marketplace?
“We give our players time to flourish over the period of their contract. We give them as much support in year three as we do in year one. It’s important players know they don’t need to panic if it doesn’t happen in year one. Obviously it would be nice if they hit the ground running,” says McDonnell.
“As a management company that doesn’t come from a sport background, our heritage is in music and entertainment. We sign an artist and develop them and it maybe takes two or three years before they release music or an album. It takes time and that’s one of our biggest selling points.
“Ultimately we can’t teach these guys how to play golf, that’s up to them how they view their coaching needs. But everything else off the course, we’re set up to do very well. We’ve negotiated deals with many prestige brands; from Coca-Cola, Pepsi, McDonalds, Mercedes and Honda among others so we know how to maximise earnings for a golfer off the course.
“We are here to create both commercial and playing opportunities for our players.
“Someone like Niall has also been there and done it too. He has firsthand experience of contracts and negotiations and everything that comes with being in the public eye. He can relate to young players making their way in the game and gaining public profile.”
Horan is in no doubt what Modest! have done for him and is ready to impart his experience and expertise through Modest! Golf.
“Modest! Management is a huge international business but we are a small family and it’s important that our signings understand they are joining a close team with Modest! Golf.
“We will work very hard for them and have some fun along the way but in return we expect our players to dedicate themselves and also represent us well. That’s why we were delighted to announce Guido as our first signing. He’s a great guy with immense talent and a super attitude,” says Horan, noting Modest! Golf are set to make further player announcements before the end of the year.
Definitely a case of watch this space.
FIRST SIGNING: GUIDO MIGLIOZZI
Italy’s Guido Migliozzi became Modest! Golf first signing to their new management company as they look to support the teenager through his professional career.
Still an amateur, Migliozzi signed with Modest! Golf in August 2016 before he embarks on a career in the paid ranks. The 19-year-old ranked inside the top 50 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings and has been one of Italy’s leading amateurs in recent seasons.
“We are delighted to announce Guido to our company. He’s a great guy with immense talent and a super attitude,” said Modest! Golf’s Niall Horan.
Fellow Modest! Golf Director, Mark McDonnell, says Guido is the type of player they are looking for. “We get approaches from players on a weekly basis looking for representation, but we take our time. Our strategy is to focus on a select number of talented players and do the very best we can for them.
“Guido is a 19-year-old fresh talent. A real family boy and we’re a family company. He works hard and has a genuine passion for the game, that’s why we signed him.
Guido has had a busy season, mixing time competing in individual amateur and team events plus accepting invites to compete in selected professional events like the Northern Ireland Open and Challenge de Madrid on the European Challenge Tour.
“I am honoured to be part of the Modest! Golf family. Niall, Ian and Mark have made me feel welcome from the start and I can’t wait to work with these guys moving into my professional career,” said Guido.
“They look after some huge names in entertainment and attention to detail is second to none.”
McDonnell added: “We will make a couple more announcements before the end of the year.”
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