With Rory McIlroy planing to return to action next month, Darragh Culhane takes a look at one of the biggest decisions of the Northern Irish man’s career so far.
Since it was announced golf would be at the Olympic games question number one was who would Rory McIlroy declare for? First of all he hinted he would be declaring for Britain.
‘What makes it such an awful position to be in is I have grown up my whole life playing for Ireland under the Golfing Union of Ireland umbrella,’ he told The Daily Mail back in 2012. ‘But the fact is, I’ve always felt more British than Irish.
‘Maybe it was the way I was brought up, I don’t know, but I have always felt more of a connection with the UK than with Ireland. And so I have to weigh that up against the fact that I’ve always played for Ireland and so it is tough. Whatever I do, I know my decision is going to upset some people but I just hope the vast majority will understand.”
And then in 2014 he officially made up his mind, declaring for Ireland, “I have been thinking about it a lot. I don’t know if it is because the World Cup is in Brazil and I was thinking a couple of years down the line. I was thinking about all the times I have played for Ireland as a boy and everything. For me it is the right decision to play for Ireland.”
And then he withdrew, much like some of the worlds other top golfers such as Jordan Speith and Jason Day he cited the Zika virus for pulling out, “After speaking with those closest to me, I’ve come to realise that my health and my family’s health comes before anything else. Even though the risk of infection from the Zika virus is considered low, it is a risk nonetheless and a risk I am unwilling to take.”
But in an interview with Paul Kimmage in the Sunday Independent he revealed the real reasons behind his withdrawal, “I sent Justin Rose a text after he won, I think I still have the message: ‘I’m happy for you, mate. I saw how much it means to you. Congratulations.’ He said: ‘Thanks very much. All the boys here want to know do you feel like you missed out?’ I said: ‘Justin, if I had been on the podium (listening) to the Irish national anthem as that flag went up, or the British national anthem as that flag went up, I would have felt uncomfortable either way.’ I don’t know the words to either anthem; I don’t feel a connection to either flag; I don’t want it to be about flags; I’ve tried to stay away from that.”
And McIlroy’s honesty about the Olympics and his reasons for not playing have had mixed reactions on social media, “Rory grow a pair and man up for christ sake yes you were born and grew up in Northern Ireland on the island of Ireland the common bit there is Ireland so your irish your golf game was sponsored by the GUI and they have directly made you the player you are today, so stop acting like an idiot” said one Facebook commenter.
But for McIlroy it wasn’t as black and white as that, “Not everyone is (driven by) nationalism and patriotism and that’s never been me, because I felt like I grew up in a place where I wasn’t allowed to be.” He said to Kimmage.
And is that not what the Olympics are about? Representing your country in an effort to achieve excellence and bring a medal home for your homeland.
The word ‘pride’ is often thrown around with regards to Olympians, Theresa May when announcing the athletes homecoming
““For the past fortnight, the people of the United Kingdom have been filled with pride as we’ve watched our Olympians take victory in so many sports”
But how can McIlroy fill a nation with pride if he does not affiliate with that nation? How could we expect welcome him home alongside the O’Donovan brothers and Annalise Murphy if he didn’t really want to be there in the colour of green?
And ultimately it is his decision, speaking to BBC last month he announced he would more than likely not be playing in Tokyo in 2020,
“More likely than not I won’t be going to the Games in 2020, just because of my personal feelings towards – not the Olympic Games, the Olympic Games are great and I think golf included in the Olympic Games is fantastic.
“But just for me it’s just something I just don’t want to get into and that’s a personal choice and hopefully people respect that decision.”
For the last number of years McIlroy has been regarded as the best golfer on the planet after winning more majors than any other player since 2011 and both teams would have been eager to have him representing them but the enormous pressure for someone who doesn’t identify for either nation evidently was taking its toll on McIlroy as he admitted to Kimmage,
“Yeah, I mean when it was announced (that golf was to be an Olympic sport) in 2009 or whatever, all of a sudden it put me in a position where I had to question who I am. Who am I? Where am I from? Where do my loyalties lie? Who am I going to play for? Who do I not want to piss off the most? I started to resent it. And I do. I resent the Olympic Games because of the position it put me in – that’s my feeling towards it – and whether that’s right or wrong, it’s how I feel.”
Ultimately, the reason that McIlroy is such a hot topic is because he is a brand, Kimmage referred to him as a ‘global brand’, he was the wonder kid who came onto the scene breaking records left right and centre.
He signed one of the most lucrative sporting deals there is with Nike and even took over from Tiger Woods on the cover of EA’s golf video game but his honesty is why journalists adore him.
He may be snappy and smart at times, such as when he said he wouldn’t be watching Olympic golf but from day one it seemed that he did not fit into this media mould that many other golfers followed.
When he played well he said he played well when he didn’t he wouldn’t hide his frustration and if he had an issue, such as with the Olympics he would not shy away from it.
Say what you will about the 27 year old but, even though he knew it would be unpopular, he could have hid behind his Zika excuse but he did not. Honesty is the best policy after all.