Unwrap the green flag round our Rory

Tue, Sep 11, 2012, 01:00

PHILIP REIDreckons the world’s number one should fly the flag for himself and no one else – and skip the Olympics

AS OSCAR Wilde himself once put it, “the only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.”

So, here goes. Here’s my advice to Rory McIlroy, the greatest golfer on the planet: Don’t bother playing in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro!

Give it a miss! Save yourself the trouble and strife of having to declare allegiance one way or another! Focus on the Majors; for, truly, they are the defining moments in any player’s career! Be yourself!

There. I’ve said it.

The pulling and dragging over McIlroy’s nationality or otherwise is most unseemly and something of an irrelevance given that virtually week-in and week-out he is playing very much as an individual.

If he were to bypass the Olympics, the kernel of this issue, it would certainly present an easier way out – and avoid the hassle – for the player, especially given the over-the-top response to the comment that he felt “more British than Irish”.

Was I hearing things or did Pat Kenny really call him “stupid”? Steady on.

McIlroy is a Northern Irish golfer who – at just 23 years of age – has become a double-Major champion and is currently the world’s number one ranked player and likely to occupy such a position for the foreseeable future.

He is an iconic figure, a role model now and will continue to be into the future. He is well-mannered, gives respect and exudes charisma. What’s not to like?

He has served Irish golf tremendously well, both as an amateur and as a professional. He owes us nothing, but has – in a relatively short time – given us so much.

He is no different to a lot of other 22- or 23- or 24-year-olds in Northern Ireland who have grown up with the largely peaceful benefits which the Belfast Agreement of 1998 brought with it and he is no different to many other sportsmen of his generation – such as rugby players, another all-island governed sport – from that neck of the woods who have benefited from funding and grant- aided assistance in their sporting development and who have similar questions of identity.

McIlroy – like any other person – should be given the time and opportunity to explore and articulate that identity. That articulation should be seen as an opportunity to reflect on who we are and what we are, and we should be mature enough to accept whatever decision is eventually taken when that beast that is the Olympics devours the pampered professional golfers.

In recent years, McIlroy became quite an expert at sitting on the fence when it came to questions of national identity. When he won a first event on the PGA Tour at Quail Hollow in 2010, he was asked if he considered himself Irish or British.

“Pass,” he replied before, after a moment’s reflection, adding: “I’m Northern Irish . . . I hold a British passport.” So do a significant number of Northern Irish men and women. He is not unique on that score.

Where he is unique and different is that McIlroy is a genuine sporting superstar and, if already embraced by many Irish and British, his appeal transcends international boundaries and his pulling power is a global one. Indeed, the so-called “Irish card” is a big draw in the United States.

Down through the years, McIlroy has – nonetheless – trodden a careful path on the question of nationality. He represented Ireland with considerable success as an amateur (playing on winning European Championship-winning teams) and he had no qualms about raising the Irish tricolour when the Walker Cup was played at Royal Co Down in 2007.

Since moving on to a hugely successful professional career, he has teamed-up with Graeme McDowell on two occasions in representing Ireland (an all-island team) in the World Cup.

Nobody can doubt he has played – and represented – Irish golf exceedingly well. It is only in terms of the Olympics that McIlroy can be pulled one way or another – Team Ireland or Team Great Britain – and it is only because of his brilliance that his dilemma should be so emotive.

Now, if he were to put his hands up and say he was giving the Olympics a miss entirely . . . wouldn’t that be the thing?

That professional golf should be in the Olympics at all goes against all of the Corinthian spirit that inspired the original Games and, on its reintroduction in four years’ time, perhaps it would have been wiser that – like boxing – it was confined to amateurs rather than professionals who already have trouble fitting enough tournaments around the globe into their packed schedules.

It is what it is, as a certain golfer might put it, and – going against my own advice – it would be a shame if McIlroy didn’t get to grace those fairways. The International Olympic Council pushed for the best of the best when the possibility of reintroducing golf to the programme was first mooted. As of now, McIlroy is the best of the best. He is from Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, and on the island of Ireland. He can be all things to all men.

Just let him be the best golfer he can be.

McILROY AND IRELAND: The facts

Amateur representative honours

2003-2004


Boys’ Home Internationals

(Played 12; Won 7; Halved 1; Lost 4)

European Championships

(Played 4; Won 3; Lost 1)

2005-2007

Youths’ international v Wales/Scotland

(Played 4; Won 3; Lost 1)

Men’s Home Internationals

(Played 12; Won 6; Halved 3; Lost 3)

European Championships

(Played 9; Won 5; Lost 4)

Individual Titles

2004– Irish Boys’ champion; Irish Youths’ champion

2005– Irish Men’s Close champion

2006– European amateur strokeplay champion;

Irish Men’s Close champion.

Professional

2009– World Cup (with Graeme McDowell)

2011– World Cup (with Graeme McDowell)

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