Rory McIlroy’s decision a real boost for Ireland’s Olympic medal hopes

Player made his own decision after thinking long and hard about the matter

Rory McIlroy and caddie JP Fitzgerald  at the pro-am at Fota Island. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Rory McIlroy and caddie JP Fitzgerald at the pro-am at Fota Island. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Thu, Jun 19, 2014, 11:43

On the day that was in it, Rory McIlroy’s wearing of a green shirt – Nike, of course, with a trademark swoosh over his heart rather than a shamrock – was rather appropriate, even if his choice of colour was by accident rather than design.

“I had some laundry done, this is the only thing I had clean,” he said, a smile etched across his facial features.

For someone whose laundry has been washed in public perhaps too frequently for his own liking, McIlroy – on this occasion – acted as the messenger of his own, good tidings.

And, in declaring his intention to play for Ireland, rather than Team GB, in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the Northern Irishman, rather timely as a precursor to the Irish Open, stopped sitting on the fence and put an end to all of the conjecture.

Ever since golf was readmitted to the Olympic family, making a reappearance in Rio for the first time in 112 years after a well-orchestrated campaign which featured Pádraig Harrington and Annika Sorenstam among its chief advocates, the question of who McIlroy – eligible, under the Belfast Agreement, to play for Ireland or Great Britain – would play for had remained unanswered. Until now.

Sporting grounds

Why it took so long to come to the decision, only McIlroy will know. But, for sure, it wasn’t one to be taken lightly in any way. Now that it has been made, on sporting grounds, it should be respected and embraced.

For instance, Graeme McDowell – also from Northern Ireland – made an early decision on the matter. By choosing to represent Ireland in the 2013 World Cup of Golf in Melbourne, McDowell committed to also playing for Ireland in the Olympics. By staying away from that event in Australia, McIlroy gave himself more time to consider the issue which Darren Clarke described yesterday as “unwinnable”.

Certainly, McIlroy’s decision adds considerably to the potential medal prospects of the Irish team; and also ensures that one of global golf’s poster boys will actually play on that new golfing stage.

In truth, that option of not playing had only briefly crossed McIlroy’s mind and was never seriously considered. As the player put it: “It would have been a very selfish decision (not to play). It wouldn’t have been good for the game of golf at all.

“If we as a golfing community want golf to succeed in the Olympics, you need to have your best players playing. I realised that pretty quickly . . . . ultimately, we want to grow the game and expose the game to more people around the world.”

The Olympics will feature a 72-hole individual strokeplay competition for both men and women, restricted to 60 players for each competition.

The top-15 world ranked players will be eligible, with a limit of four players from a given country. Beyond the top-15, players will be eligible based on the world rankings with a maximum of two eligible players from each country that does not already have two or more players among the top-15.

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