For all the headlines Rory McIlroy has made in recent weeks, at least one of the seemingly endless list of demands on the young superstar fell by the wayside temporarily. Now that question has been answered once and for all, as McIlroy made the smart decision to play for Ireland in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“I have been thinking about it a lot,” McIlroy announced Wednesday. “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.”
As soon as golf was voted back into the Games by the International Olympic Committee back in 2009, many questions remained as to the format and qualifying, but McIlroy found himself in a unique position as a player who could choose which nation he would represent. Northern Ireland is technically a part of the United Kingdom, but Irish golfers, McIlroy included, have traditionally competed under Irish colors in international competitions.
McIlroy drew heavy criticism at times over the last several years, stating at one time that he may even sit out the Games to avoid offending people on either side of the equation. In 2012, he said that he was leaning toward Britain because he had “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,” he told the Daily Mail at the time. “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.”
The decision to play for Ireland in Rio will allow him to potentially team once again with countryman and friend Graeme McDowell, with whom McIlroy played the first two rounds of the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Did they talk about McIlroy’s Olympic decision last week? Neither has indicated that they did, but you know that McIlroy trusts McDowell, and their history together was probably at least a part of this decision.
In the end, you have to respect McIlroy’s decision, and it was probably the safest one he could make with all of his history in Irish golf considered. Going back to the way he grew up and what made him the most comfortable personally was the right call, and hopefully we’ll get to see him at his best in Rio in two years.