Rory McIlroy Has a Big Political Decision to Make

Last week the US PGA Championship fell under the sporting radar, much to the ire of golfing fanatics. The Olympics was grabbing all the headlines and it was hard to find a narrative more enthralling than the romantic happenings in London.

It seems as though this suited eventual winner Rory McIlroy. Able to cut loose, away from the mainstream questions of his relationship with professional tennis star Caroline Wozniacki and the armchair fans querying his ability to dominate, he tore into the course at Kiawah Island.

By Sunday afternoon McIlroy was pumping his lead up to the eventual eight-stroke margin and looked all the while like a young man destined to become a great of the game.

As the Northern Irishman strolled to a second major title the sports writers in the United Kingdom could hardly believe their luck. Still drunk with happiness at how the Olympics had panned out, there was another Briton snaffling some silverware.

Now he is being asked questions about being an Olympian himself.

In Rio de Janeiro, in 2016, golf will take its bow as an Olympic sport. Not quite a fifth major, yet, the Brazilian event will draw some of the best players from all over the world, as well as forcing some interesting selection decisions from the likes of Team USA, Team GB and Australia.

McIlroy has proven that he has the temperament to succeed on the grandest stages –the urban myth is already circulating that he was so calm he slept in before his final round at Kiawah –and he would be one of Britain’s outstanding candidates for selection (if there is not a straightforward ranking or qualification protocol).

However, this is where things get a little sticky- politically.

In the last few years Northern Irish golf has come in for intense praise. Three recent major winners have come from a country that has a population of only 1.8 million (the equivalent of three separate major winners in the last two years hailing from Nebraska).

Any of McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke could fly the flag for Great Britain, but they would also have the chance to represent the Republic of Ireland. For most this would not be an issue of contention, however, McIlroy is a Catholic.

His official website declares him a proud Northern Irishman, with the red hand of Ulster proudly displayed. Yet there is a tradition of Catholic northerners representing the south. As Protestants the other two would be expected to declare with the UK, but Rory may have to tread carefully.

In 2011 a video displayed a victorious McIlroy avoiding a tricolor Irish flag; throw in his direction by the crowd. Although it would make sense for him to represent the UK, he will eventually have to declare. Sectarian politics is not easy to discuss, even when attributing the debate to a very successful young man who only wants to play good golf. The fact that he has had older relatives caught up in The Troubles –even killed –is out of his control.

There is some time before this becomes a consideration. By the time the Olympics come around Rory McIlroy may well have won more majors, though. He would be a high profile addition to either of Great Britain or Ireland. More so than this, though, his decision will inevitably cause friction back home.