Pádraig Harrington has expressed “massive sympathy” for Rory McIlroy as the row over the world number one’s plans for the 2016 Olympic Games rumbles on.
McIlroy has yet to decide whether he will represent Ireland or Team Great Britain when golf returns to the Games at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Indeed such is the sensitivity of the matter, the Northern Ireland star has recently hinted that he may opt against competing so as to avoid a huge controversy.
Harrington was amongst the stars who worked on the submission to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that resulted in golf returning to the Olympics for a first time since 1924.
And the Dublin man, contesting this week’s Volvo Champions event in Durban, admitted McIlroy is in an extremely difficult position.
Harrington said: “I have massive sympathy for Rory as a fellow Irishman and massive sympathy for him as a sportsman.
“No sportsman should have to make that decision and no one at 23 years of age should have to make that decision.
“The reality is that there have been people involved in politics over the last 100 years who have tried to negotiate that matter (of eligibility).
“Why would you ask a 23-year-old that, just because he’s good a hitting a little white golf ball?”
But Harrington hopes that McIlroy will see action in Brazil. “Golf needs Rory to play as golf is only on trial at the next two Olympics. It would be nice if Rory is there and supporting the events. Rory’s in an extraordinarily difficult position and I would hate to be in it myself.”
Harrington’s appearance in Durban has rekindled memories of his first ever European Tour event on this week’s host Durban Country Club course 17 years ago at the 1996 FNB Championship, when he finished tied 49th.
“I rang my mother at home and said, ‘Mum, I’ve just finished 49th, and I won £1,480 and I couldn’t have played worse. They are just giving it away,” Harrington laughed. “It was a fortune!”
Harrington has since banked €23m in European Tour winnings. He can add €350,000 to that with victory this week on the shores of the Indian Ocean.
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