Rory McIlroy has had a complicated relationship with the Olympics but the four-time Major champions says he has a deeper appreciation for what the Games can mean for the game of golf having played his first round at the Kasumigaseki Country Club.
The Holyrood man shot a two-under par 69 which leaves him joint-20th after day one and six shots off leader Sepp Straka of Austria. His Irish teammate Shane Lowry posted a one-under round to leave him tied for 31st.
“Yeah, it feels quite good,” said McIlroy at the end of a day that was delayed by the threat of lightning. “When golf first got into the Olympics I had an idea of what it meant for the game but you get a different feeling and perspective once you’re here at the Olympics.
“It’s cool. Our sport is so new (to the Games) that you sort of have to put yourself in a position 20 or 30 years down the line and think about what it means then and I think it is going to be massive.
“I think in 30 years’ time it will be on a par with the four Majors that we play so pretty cool to play my first round in it and I certainly hope it won’t be my last one because I have got a taste for it now.”
McIlroy had practised with Lowry beforehand and certainly seemed to enjoy the experience judging by the pictures taken of the pair laughing and joking as they went about their business.
Add in Neil Manchip, who coached them as amateurs, is still Lowry's coach and team manager for the golfers here to boot, and it was just like old days for the trio who know each other so well going back to their amateur days.
Lowry was less amused by his first round which he admitted to leaving him somewhat frustrated.
“I feel like I played okay but I hit it to maybe 20, 30 feet all day. I missed a couple of greens, didn't really hit it in the fairway off the tee enough, so there's a few parts to my game I need to brush up on.
"I actually felt like I putted quite well but you're so far away that you're not really holing 30 footers out there over humps and slopes. So I need to be a little bit more aggressive out there tomorrow with my approach play, get the ball in the fairway more and roll in a few putts.”
Seven shots is not an unassailable lead to pull in but the margin for error has narrowed.
“One-under is not ideal. Obviously the lead is eight-under and there are quite a few low scores, but at the end of the day there are three rounds left and I know people can be panicking because there are only three medals here, but you just need to play your own game, stay patient and hopefully come Sunday you'll have a chance on the back nine.” McIlroy has admitted that he is not all that patriotic in recent weeks but Lowry has worn his heart on his sleeve in that sense and spoke prior to the Games about the honour that would come with wearing the Irish uniform at these Games.
So, how did it feel to walk off the 18th as an Olympian?
"I don't think it feels too different. Obviously, look, it is... I walked off the tee this morning and said to Tommy (Fleetwood), 'well, Tommy, now it's official, we can call ourselves Olympians' and we had a little chuckle at that. Nah, it's pretty cool. I never dreamt growing up that you would be...
“I'm a big sports fan and would have watched the Olympics and all sports growing up, but the fact that I'm here representing Ireland is pretty cool and it's just amazing.”