RORY MCILROY HAS ended the long-running debate over his Olympic status and finally declared his intention to represent Ireland in Rio.
Bookmakers immediately made him a 7/1 shot to bring home a gold medal for Ireland in 2016.
“I’m very happy with my decision,” McIlroy said this afternoon. “I just thought it was the right thing to do.”
The two-time Major winner from Hollywood, County Down, is also eligible to play for Great Britain and his decision had been the subject of much speculation ahead of golf’s Olympic return in two years’ time.
As recently as a few months ago McIlroy said he was still undecided, and the 25-year-old also previously suggested that he might opt out completely to avoid offending one team or the other.
“It’s a continuation of what I’ve always done,” he announced at Cork’s Fota Island Golf Club where the Irish Open begins tomorrow.
“I played my junior and boys golf for Ireland. I played my amateur golf for Ireland. Just because I’m getting paid to play this great game now doesn’t mean I should change that.
I’m very happy with my decision. It means I can actually look forward to the Olympics now in a couple of years’ time — if I qualify for the team obviously.
“I just thought it was the right thing to do and it was the right time to let everyone know. Now I’m really looking forward to Rio in 2016.”
Qualification for the 2016 Olympics will be based on golf’s world rankings. The top 15 players will automatically secure a place (to a maximum of four per country) while the remaining 45 places will be allocated to the highest-ranked remaining players (max two per country).
As things stand McIlroy and Graeme McDowell — sixth and 22nd in the world respectively — would make up the Irish team while Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowry and others would miss out.
McIlroy and McDowell twice flew the Irish flag at golf’s World Cup in 2009 and again in 2011.
“When I actually sat down and thought about it and had a little bit of time to myself, it wasn’t [a difficult decision],” McIlroy said. “It’s what I’ve always done as a boy and as an amateur.
“I’ve always played for Ireland and my ambition was always to make the Irish team. Whether that was a six-man team for the European Championships or the home international 11-man team, that was always my goal.
“If you look at most of the other sports in this country, rugby being a main example, they see Ireland as one. I’ve got a lot of friends that play for Ulster and would say they’re Northern Irish but are very proud to pull on that green jersey, as I will be in a couple of years time.”
He added: “I think there’s a little bit of relief. I was always worried about what other people would think when actually it’s your decision at the end of the day.
“You have to take ownership of it and you have to be comfortable with it. Ultimately that was the decision that I was most comfortable with and the decision that I wanted to make.”
The news was greeted by a small ripple of applause in the press conference room, and McIlroy admitted that he was slightly taken aback.
“I didn’t think it deserved a round of applause to make a simple decision between one or the other!
“At the end of the day, if you think about it and you think about all the times I’ve played for Ireland in amateur golf and all the great memories I have, there’s no point changing that just because I’m playing for money now.”
– First published 12.53; audio courtesy of Big Red Bench, Red FM.