McIlroy finds friendly support on flag issue

Fellow Ulsterman McDowell expects people to respect the decision on the Rio Olympics

Graeme McDowell expects that people will support Rory McIlroy’s decision to play with Ireland for the Rio Olympic games in 2016. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Graeme McDowell expects that people will support Rory McIlroy’s decision to play with Ireland for the Rio Olympic games in 2016. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Wed, Jun 18, 2014, 19:07

Graeme McDowell is a popular interviewee, displaying a candour that’s as crisp as his short irons. He generally doesn’t need a leg-up when it comes to generating interesting copy but on a day when Rory McIlroy declared an intention to play for Ireland in the 2016 Olympics, McDowell’s opinion was precious, gilt edged.

They’ve represented Ireland and Europe as a partnership, enjoyed the occasionally choppy waters of friendship and spent a great deal of time in each other’s company. They also share a Northern Ireland heritage that while not identical is conversant with the divergent political and religious divots.

McDowell admitted: “I think it was a contentious, complicated, complex issue that I suppose could have been settled very quickly with a straight answer. To have Rory representing Ireland in the Olympic Games is very special. I’m glad he’s committed. That’s all. I hope to be there alongside him.”

He was asked to elaborate a little on the complexity of the decision that Rory faced. McDowell continued: “We are in a very unique scenario in Northern Ireland. We have sports which have all-Ireland teams and we have sports which are split. Obviously soccer is two teams and rugby is one team.

“To me golf is always an all-Ireland sport. I grew up wanting to wear the green blazer with a shamrock on it and a green golf bag with the Ireland logo on it. That’s what I wanted when I was a kid.

“So it makes sense that the best players in Ireland, whether it be north or south of the border, should want to represent Ireland in the Olympic Games. It’s a very difficult decision. If you want to get religious or political about it, you are going to upset someone theoretically.”

McDowell is delighted that McIlroy has brought an end to the conjecture; they are both committed to Ireland. “(For my part) I’m committed to Ireland, hoping to represent them in the Olympic Games in 2016.”

There’ll be a certain sentiment for McDowell this week as it was 12 years ago at Fota Island that he collected his first pay cheque in his second tournament as a professional golfer. He received €14,000. Since then he’s made the cut six times in the Irish Open, his best finish, a tie for 11th place at Baltray in 2004.

So what does he recall of the Fota Island course in 2002? I don’t really remember much apart from a few holes here and there. I was definitely still the rabbit in headlights in taking it all in. I am pleasantly surprised how picturesque this place is and how good the golf course played. There’s a lot of really tough tee shots.

“The rough is thick, (which places) a real premium on accuracy off the tee. It’s (the course) long in places but you do get a lot of medium and short irons in your hand at times. It is a course that you can really score on. It feels like the proverbial walk in the park after Pinehurst No. 2. Golf feels fun again.”

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