Dawson points way for McIlroy to go Ireland in Rio
R&A’s influential view is McIlroy’s team Ireland past may remove burden of choice
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland may have the question of his allegiance answered for him. Photograph: Harry How/Getty Images
The imprimatur, such as it is, from the R&A’s Peter Dawson to take what he calls the “burden of choice” out of the hands of Rory McIlroy – and, for that matter, of Graeme McDowell – in deciding which nation to play for in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro would seem to clear the path for him to compete for Team Ireland rather than Team GB when golf marks its return for the first time since 1904.
Dawson, the chief executive of the Royal and Ancient, and one of the foremost advocators of golf’s return to the Olympics, is arguably the most powerful official in the sport. He is also a man who chooses his words carefully, and the timing – some three and a half years in advance of the Olympics – would seem planned to take pressure away from McIlroy, especially in having to make a choice himself.
The words used by Dawson on the matter were interesting, in that he emphasised McIlroy’s past association with representing Ireland (at amateur level in events such as the Eisenhower Trophy, which is the official world championship at amateur level, and the professional World Cup of Golf).
“I think . . . there may be a regulation within the Olympic rules that would require him to stay with (playing for Ireland). It’s quite ambiguous, really, but there is a rule that a player who has represented one nation at a previous world championships from certain countries, that carries with you,” said Dawson, speaking in Scotland on Tuesday.
Dawson added: “Is the golf World Cup a world championship? Golf isn’t structured the same way as other sports . . . . but I would very much like to take this burden of choice away from the player, if we can possibly do it, because it’s not fair to him.
“I think he has made it pretty clear in one or two pronouncements that he’s worried about it and the last thing we want is players worrying about this.”
McIlroy represented Ireland in the Eisenhower Trophy (as well as numerous European championships) and has twice played for Ireland in the World Cup as a professional, on each occasion partnering McDowell.
The last time was in Mission Hills in China in 2011 (there was no World Cup last year) but, even still, under Olympic rules, McIlroy and McDowell would have the option of representing either Ireland or GB, as the relevant rule which Dawson referred to has a three-year shelf-life.
However, by playing for Ireland in this year’s World Cup, again in Mission Hills in early December, that rule would become more relevant.
Although McIlroy didn’t make any comment yesterday on the further developments brought about by Dawson’s seeking to unburden him of the decision-making, it is interesting the bookmakers reacted swiftly to Dawson’s decree and moved McIlroy from a 7/2 chance to play for Ireland in Rio to 4/7.
In contrast, his odds on playing for GB changed from 1/6 to 9/4 outsiders.
In a BBC television documentary screened in January, McIlroy – who initially ran into trouble for claiming in a newspaper interview last September than he “felt more British than Irish” – expressed the dilemma he was in regarding Olympic representation:
“Play for one side or the other, or not at all because I may upset too many people . . . those are my three options I’m considering very carefully.”
Previously, McIlroy had issued an open letter on social media sites: “I am in an extremely sensitive and difficult position and I conveyed as much in a recent newspaper interview . . .I am a proud product of Irish golf and the Golfing Union of Ireland.
“I am also a proud Ulsterman who grew up in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. That is my background and always will be. I receive great support from both Irish and British fans alike and it is greatly appreciated.”
McIlroy, a two-time Major champion who added last year’s US PGA title to the US Open he won in 2011, and McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion and winner of last week’s Heritage Classic on the US Tour, have time on their side before actually making any decision. Dawson’s announcement, though, could take the decision-making out of their hands.
As former tour professional-turned-broadcaster Maureen Madill, speaking on BBC Radio Ulster yesterday, observed, “it is a situation that is peculiar to Northern Ireland players and Rory is very aware of who he may upset and that is the last thing that he wants.
“I don’t think it would be too bad a thing if they managed to dig up something but I’m not sure that they will be able to. I think he might have to make the decision.”
Time will tell on that point, but Dawson being Dawson isn’t inclined to speak lightly; as such, his inclination to suggest McIlroy should play for Ireland carries a lot of weight and, come the time, ease that burden of decision-making.