From this morning’s Arizona Republic:
Golf’s master partnership endures
Agent Steve Loy attributes his success over the past 25 years to his ties to Phil Mickelson.
Peter Corbett, The Republic | azcentral.com
Steve Loy used to despise agents when he was a college golf coach.
Now he is one of the golf world’s most successful agents and president of Lagardère Unlimited Golf in Scottsdale with a stable of top PGA Tour pros and one of its best-earning players. Loy, 62, has been the coach, caddy, agent, business partner and close friend of Phil Mickelson over the past 25 years, a partnership that has been among golf’s most successful pairings.
Mickelson, 43, an Arizona State standout for Loy, is one of golf’s all-time leading money winners, with $73.5 million in prize money and one of the top athletes worldwide in endorsements.
“Lefty,” as he is known, is expected to tee off Thursday at the Augusta National Golf Club in pursuit of his fourth Masters championship.
“Who would have known when he was 15 years old walking down the fairway that we would have a journey for life,” said Loy, who beat out 57 other schools that were recruiting Mickelson in the late 1980s.
Loy, who became Mickelson’s agent in 1992 when he turned pro, has been developing his sports agency for much of the past two decades while Mickelson was winning 42 PGA Tour events, including five of the major tournaments.
Loy developed Gaylord Sports Management into a top sports agency and bought a controlling interest in the Scottsdale-based company in 2004.
The Lagardère Group, a conglomerate based in Paris with $11 billion in sales, acquired Gaylord in January 2012. It named Loy president of Lagardére Unlimited Golf. “We’ve been on the run and growing ever since,” Loy said.
He had been traveling globally for 26 of the previous 34 weeks when The Arizona Republic sat down with him for a n interview last month to talk about the golf business, his relationship with Mickelson and his star client’s legacy.
Scoring more clients
Lagardère’s client list has grown from 15 clients to 48 PGA Tour players, including former top-ranked player Luke Donald, who left IMG Golf at the end of 2013.
In the past six months, Lagardère has acquired Crown Sports Management, an agency based in Sea Island, Ga., and Jeff Sanders Promotions, a Beaverton, Ore., company that manages golf events.
A Forbes magazine list of top agencies from last year lists Lagardère at No. 7, with $1billion in contracts under management, not far behind No. 5 Excel Sports Management, with $1.45 billion in contracts and Tiger Woods as one of its clients.
Lagardère’s tennis division represents top players Andy Murray, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki.
The football division of Lagardère, headed by Joel Segal, represents more than 50 players, including Michael Vick, Reggie Bush and Cardinals star Patrick Peterson.
Lagardère is rebuilding its baseball division after agent Terry Bross left the company, Loy said.
He oversees Lagardère’s10 golf agents and personally manages Mickelson and Donald.
Loy and Mickelson are also partners in five Arizona golf clubs and are negotiating to acquire others.
Loy, an Albuquerque native, played football and golf at Eastern New Mexico University. He started coaching at age 22 at Scottsdale Community College in 1974 and won two national championships there over a decade.
He went on to Arkansas from 1983 to ’87 as golf coach and assistant athletic director in the same department with football coach Lou Holtz and basketball coach Eddie Sutton.
Loy took the ASU job in 1987, and Mickelson arrived two years later to lead the Sun Devils to an NCAA championship in 1990 and three individual titles.
“He made me a very good coach, I make it be known to all,” Loy said with a smile.
Loy also coached John Daly at Arkansas, Billy Mayfair at ASU, and 40 All-Americans during his coaching career.
Success linked to ‘Lefty’
Golf writer John Davis said Loy has always made it clear that Mickelson is the driving force behind the success of his agency.
“They genuinely like each other, aside from the business relationship,” said Davis, a former Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette sportswriter. “I’ve heard Phil refer to coach Loy as his best friend.”
Mickelson also respects Loy’s business acumen and integrity, Davis said.
“He’s not a show-me-the-money kind of agent,” he added.
Mickelson has proved to be loyal to his support team, which includes caddy Jim “Bones” Mackay and swing coach Butch Harmon, who rep laced Rick Smith in 2006.
“It’s pretty common for pro golfers to change agents,” said Davis, adding that Mickelson and Woods are among the top players who have stayed with their agents.
Tim Mickelson, Phil’s brother and the current ASU golf coach, said his brother and Loy have great trust and respect for each other.
“The best way I can put it is that Steve is someone who you want in your corner,” he said. “He’s a good negotiator, knows the economics of the business and understands which players might become available to sign.”
The younger Mickelson, who played at ASU after his brother and Loy left, said he at first was intimidated by Loy, who was earlier an oil roughneck and a football coach.
“He’s a big teddy bear, but he’s very ruthless on the business side,” the ASU golf coach said.
Ups and downs of golf
Loy, for his part, said he enjoys the partnerships he has with Mickelson and Lagardère’s other players.
“If you don’t have the partnerships, with the ups and downs that are part of golf, you’re going to get disappointed on both sides,” Loy said.
He confided that Mickelson is “the only person in my life who has never disappointed me.”
The golfing pair endured a dozen years and 47 major tournaments before Mickelson won a green jacket at the Masters in 2004, his first major.
Mickelson has also finished second a record six times at the U.S. Open, the only one of the four major tournament titles that has eluded him.
“Legacy is what matters to both of us,” said Loy, adding that a U.S. Open title would give Mickelson a career grand-slam of winning all four major tournaments at least once. Only five players have ever done it.
Success on the golf course has translated into lucrative endorsement deals for Mickelson. He has partnerships with Rolex, Callaway, Barclay’s, KPMG, Amgen/Pfizer and Grayhawk Corp., Loy said.
Another Forbes magazine piece from last year ranked Mickelson No. 7 on its list of highest-paid athletes, with $44 million in endorsements. Woods was first with $65 million in endorsements.
Loy, who makes his money from a cut of the endorsements, disputed Mickelson’s s pot on the list, claiming endorsement figures are often inflated and that his client is at the top.
He defended his client over criticism leveled at Mickelson over the years.
“You know they were always trying to disclaim Phil because he was looked at as too good of a guy to be true,”
Loy said. “So they were always taking pot shots, but that’s OK. Over time, it’s obviously played out that this man is everything he’s portrayed to be.” Mickelson also took heat last year for his comments about California’s hefty tax bite, which got little sympathy from critics who noted his lucrative winnings and endorsement deals.
“I’d rather not comment, but I would say that there was an overwhelming line of support for Phil,” Loy said. “Unfortunately, he shouldn’t have said anything and regretfully he did.”
Loy also defended a complicated deal with Scottsdale in which the city paid for improvements to the McDowell Mountain Golf Club; he and Mickelson acquired the club in 2011.
A lawsuit filed by Scottsdale residents John Washington and Mark Stuart claims the deal amounts to an illegal gift of taxpayer money.
“The City Council has allowed amendments to shift more costs to taxpayers and more risk to taxpayers,” Washington said.
Loy argued that the course was on the verge of bankruptcy when Mickelson and Loy bought it and the improvements, which will be repaid over time, are already paying dividends.
[“The course,” wasn’t on the verge of bankruptcy. The previous licensee of the course–which is owned by the taxpayers of the City of Scottsdale–had financial problems, when Mickelson and Loy bought the LICENSE.]
Scottsdale reported that its revenue from McDowell Mountain last year was $266,663, up 45 percent from the previous year, and the number of rounds were up 2.9 percent to 40,542. McDowell Mountain is now paying 3 percent of its gross sales to the city instead of a 2 percent fee under the previous agreement.
[Mayor Jim Lane, the City Council, and city staff have no idea whether any of these numbers have meaning because months’ worth of financial reports haven’t been collected or are otherwise missing, and they can’t explain basic calculations as to how these numbers are derived.]
Loy said he and Mickelson had been wary of investments in the golf business, but they got into it in 2009 when the golf market was struggling.
In addition to McDowell Mountain, they acquired Palm Valley in Goodyear, Mountain Brook Golf Club in Gold Canyon, and Chaparral Pines and the Rim Golf Club, both in Payson.
The Arizona golf community “has been very appreciative of what we’ve done,” said Loy, adding that it has not been easy.
“Business is tough with short margins and big overhead,” he said. Mickelson is also involved in course design, something that he could be more involved in when his playing days are over.
He will continue to play golf as long as he is competitive, Loy said.
“The day he feels he can’t win anymore, he’ll probably just go home and take care of his family.”
As for his career, Loy said he would not know what to do with himself if he stopped working.
When asked about any mulligans, anything he would like to do over during his career with Mickelson, Loy did not hesitate: “I think we’d like to have some shots back at the U.S. Opens. But no, no regrets. I love my life. I love the people I work with.”