Golf

McIlroy in the rough with decision

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland
Rory McIlroy has played for Ireland in past events but has a British passport.
GolfWeek Alistair Tait
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Rory McIlroy is in an unplayable lie.

The 22-year-old is faced with a politically sensitive decision no athlete should have to make. No wonder he issued an open letter on Twitter telling the world to go away and leave him alone for a few years.

McIlroy has a choice of representing Ireland or Great Britain for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, when golf will be staged for the first time in the Summer Games since 1904. Whichever choice he makes, he will be roundly criticized.

The two-time major winner was born in Northern Ireland and holds a British passport. However, he grew up playing golf for Ireland since the Golfing Union of Ireland is the governing body for both the North and South of the Emerald Isle.

McIlroy received much in the way of funding from the GUI to develop his talent. Included in that funding was coaching and travel to represent Ireland around the world. Golf fans in the Irish Republic claim him as their own and might feel slighted if he chooses to represent Great Britain in Rio. Besides, Ireland won only one gold medal at the recent London Games compared to 29 for Great Britain. The nation needs all the help it can get.

However, McIlroy is British. He holds a British passport. There will be pressure to turn out for Great Britain four years from now.

"I wish to clarify," McIlroy wrote in his letter posted Monday, "that I absolutely have not made a decision regarding my participation in the next Olympics. On a personal level, playing in the Olympics would be a huge honor. However, the games in Rio are still four years away and I certainly won't be making any decisions with regards to participating anytime soon."

It’s to McIlroy’s eternal credit that he has never got involved in politics. Why should he? After all, his interest is in chasing small white balls around green and pleasant fields, something he does better than anyone right now. Like most 22-year-olds, he would rather leave politics until a later age.

That’s hard to do in Northern Ireland, where the political situation has been in turmoil for nearly the country’s entire history. And anyone who knows their history knows it isn’t just political, but religious too. The division between Catholic and Protestant is deep rooted and has driven the country apart. It continues to this day, despite the progress Northern Ireland has made in recent years.

McIlroy has taken the right option by telling the world to back off. However, he’s only delaying the inevitable. At some point, he is going to have to pin his colors to the mast.

Or maybe not. Maybe the best way out of this dilemma is to say no thanks to the Olympics. A gold medal would look good around McIlroy’s neck, but it might not be worth the hassle he’ll go through to get it.

Tagged: Rory McIlroy

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