Rory McIlroy defends playing golf with Donald Trump
'This wasn't an endorsement nor a political statement of any kind.'
Rory McIlroy has defended playing golf with the US President Donald Trump after saying he was called a "fascist and bigot".
Posting a statement on Twitter the golfer called the abuse he received "ridiculous" and insisted the round of golf did not mean he endorsed Mr Trump.
"I don't agree with eveything my friends or family say or do, but I still play golf with them. Last week, I was invited to play golf with the President of the United States."
He continued: "Whether you respect the person who holds that position or not, you respect the office that he holds. This wasn't an endorsment nor a political statement of any kind."
"It was, quite simply, a round of golf. Golf was our common ground, nothing else. I've travelled all over the world and have been very fortunate enough to befriend people from many different countries, beliefs and cultures.
"To be called a fascist and bigot by some people because I spent time in someone's company is just ridiculous. I hope, to some degree, this clairfies my decision to accept the invitation that was extended to me.
"Thanks to everyone for your continued support and I look forward to making my comeback in Mexico next week!"
The 45th president of the United States is a keen golf fan and owns several courses around the world, and Northern Irishman McIlroy accepted an offer from the polarising new commander-in-chief to join him on the fairways at Trump International in Florida at the weekend.
Trump's contentious comments and actions, both before and since taking office, have been criticised by some sports people, and Martellus Bennett is among several New England Patriots who plan to swerve their Super Bowl celebration at The White House as a result of its current incumbent's views.
In an earlier interview with The Guardian, McIlroy refrained from offering his own views on his latest playing partner but expressed his intrigue in his rise to power.
"I really got into it once Trump ran because I knew him a little bit but at the same time I was intrigued how a successful businessman could transition into running for the highest office in the land," the 27-year-old said.
"It is a totally different process from the UK. He obviously came at it from a completely different angle.
"I've said it to the man himself; on a Tuesday night at a tournament, if there was a live (political) debate, I would get room service, stick on CNN and just watch. It was pure entertainment, even if you didn't understand politics it was this complete phenomenon.
"Something like this probably won't happen again in our lifetime. I'm very attuned to it, I watch a lot of news. You can't avoid it. I had no interest in politics until a couple of years ago; now I can't seem to get away from it.
"I feel like I've stayed unpolitical in terms of Northern Ireland and all that goes on there but because I'm not an American I don't feel a real part of it; I'm just interested by the phenomenon of it all. I don't really care about the policies. The whole circus, this big show is intriguing to watch."
Long before his fascination with Trump developed, McIlroy was in awe of 14-time major winner Tiger Woods.
The prospect of the 41-year-old adding to that total appears to be dwindling after injuries once again disrupted his latest comeback to the sport and McIlroy, on the way back from his own injury issue, admitted he has sympathy for a man he grew up aspiring to emulate.
"I never thought I would say this but I felt sorry for him," McIlroy added.
"I just felt bad for the guy that his body won't allow him to do what he wants to do. I can't imagine anything so debilitating where you can't even stand up to do a press conference.
"Tiger was a child star, he was used to being out there winning golf tournaments since he was 10. I know that's not what he values his life around but it must be hard to still want to do that but have it taken away because you can't physically get to where you want to be. Obviously there is a physical battle there but there has to be a mental struggle as well.
"I'm glad that he has other things in his life. He has his kids and is so committed to them. If he didn't have that it would be so hard. He is still young, he has another half of his life to live. Golf is minuscule compared to watching your kids grow up. That's where my priority would be now."