Rory McIlroy will tee off at today’s Irish Open relieved he has finally taken the plunge and declared allegiance to Ireland ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
Having worn green to his pre-tournament press conference at Fota Island Resort in Cork yesterday, McIlroy put an end to several years of speculation about whether he would play for either Great Britain and Northern Ireland, where he was born in Co Down in 1989, or Ireland, the country he had represented as an amateur under the auspices of the all-Ireland governing body, the Golfing Union of Ireland.
Speculation had been swirling around the 25-year-old and his fellow Ulster major winner Graeme McDowell since the decision was taken by the International Olympic Committee in 2009 to re-admit golf to its Summer Games in 2016.
Whichever way he jumped, as was his right, McIlroy has long been aware that his decision might be misunderstood, particularly in his own part of the world where the issue can be such a sensitive one for so many.
In 2012, the two-time major winner had appeared to be leaning towards another option when he told a British tabloid newspaper: “The fact is, I’ve always felt more British than Irish.”
Yet, his past as an Irish amateur international through boys, junior and senior levels proved too strong a connection and yesterday McIlroy declared: “I think for me, it’s the right decision to play for Ireland, so I’m going to play for Ireland in 2016.”
McIlroy’s announcement had been greeted by applause from some of those in the media centre, something that appeared to take the golfer aback.
“I didn’t think it deserved a round of applause to make a simple decision between one or the other but, at the end of the day, it wasn’t really — you think about it and you think about all the times, for me, that I’ve played for Ireland and all the great memories that I have.”
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