Rory's Olympic decision must be respected


CADDIE’S ROLE:The number one player in the world, Rory McIlroy, was going to get sucked into a non-golfing issue sooner or later, writes COLIN BYRNE

THERE WAS a time in the modern professional golf era when players joked that they would look at their yearly schedule and tweak it according to where they thought Tiger Woods was going to play. Of course it was not possible to avoid confrontation on the course with the seemingly unbeatable Tiger but there was a tacit understanding that you were playing for second place if Tiger was playing.

This dominance went on for almost a decade and of course the longer it went on the more the myth grew; for some almost super-natural reason Woods was unbeatable. Then of course the Tiger’s nocturnal activities burst his golfing bubble.

Of course he has since made a comeback, because ultimately you cannot suppress talent, it seeps back out and once again overcomes the opposition. But the myth that Tiger was truly special was shattered and of course it became apparent that he was beatable.

The USPGA Tour were rightly a little concerned that their image leader turned out to be weak of flesh and their poster boy was no longer the image that was going to keep the tour buoyant.

Along came a swashbuckling young man from Northern Ireland with the signature bushy locks and won his first US Tour event in Charlotte at 20 years of age and got the marketers’ immediate attention; a new star to hang their advertising hat upon.

Despite Rory McIlroy’s relatively slower start, compared to Tiger’s, in collecting Major titles, Rory has delivered on every level to keeping bums on golf viewing seats. The problem now is that with his dominance there is a search for a weakness, not so much on course but as to his unfortunate image of sporting superhero who should also, seemingly, be all things to mankind off course.

What better than the totally irrelevant and distracting nonsense about the Olympic Games in four years’ time. Tiger miraculously avoided getting sucked into race issues by forming his First Tee charity, which helped underprivileged kids and many of them happened to be of African American origin. He and his money making machine managed to keep his views on social issues private. Some would argue that he is really only interested in his golf and is totally disinterested in social issues.

We all expect our sporting heroes to be princes among men. The reality is they are sports stars not social crusaders even if they do dabble with it.

It can frequently back-fire. Lance Armstrong was a gifted cyclist and used his positive image well for his cancer charity. Of course there are exceptions; look at Jessica Ennis who is simply projecting precisely who she is and not some greater cause. She seems to be a genuinely down-to-earth decent human being.

The number one golfer in the world was naturally going to get sucked into a non golfing issue sooner or later. Until now Rory has done a remarkable job at deflecting the North/South subject in Ireland. But he was finally drawn into it with suggestions last week that he had more tendencies to represent Britain in the Olympic Games than Ireland. He didn’t say that he would, but of course he is going to have to declare before 2016. The fact that professional golf has no place in the Olympics is another subject entirely.

What an impossible position to be in. Sports people who have come from oppressive regimes can easily reject systems such as South Africans denouncing apartheid. Rory doesn’t and shouldn’t have to take sides. He was brought up on the fence of the Irish divide and has been hugely influenced by both sides and this has moulded him. It is a bizarre situation to be in and I have no idea how a free-thinking young person could possibly come to a decision other than listening to their own heart, conscience and mind when choosing who to represent.

Rory is an exceptional talent. If you watched how he demolished the Crooked Stick golf course in his last event a couple of weeks ago you have to be impressed by his prowess. He was hitting fairways that were shaped to catch the longer hitter by narrowing the landing area. Despite the softness of the fairways Rory’s accuracy from the tee was astounding. The course was not easy, but he made it look so.

I don’t care where Rory McIlroy is from, professional golf is largely a totally self-absorbed game, you represent yourself when you play it. Whoever Rory McIlroy plays for in Brazil I respect his decision. I have a healthy disregard for marketing machines but I do respect how Rory says he feels when it comes to where he belongs.

As often is the case it is not the sports person that is the problem, rather the expectations of those with an agenda who use them to voice their opinions.

As Ben Hogan so famously said: “I didn’t like the glamour, I just liked the game”. He came from an era where he was allowed be a golfer and not a political or social talisman for someone else’s causes.

Rory McIlroy is becoming as fearsome as Tiger was back in his day and with his recent Fed-Ex form the rest of the field look like they are playing for second place. What he really needs to watch out for is those trying to demolish him off course.

Rory’s honesty, in what is always going to be a difficult decision of allegiance, should not be a reason for the Irish public to turn against him.

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