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Rory proud to wear the Irish uniform in Rio

McIlroy answers Ireland's call for Olympics

By Karl MacGinty

It's so rare for a golfer to get an ovation for simply answering a question at a pre-tournament press conference, even Rory McIlroy was taken aback when he received a spontaneous round of applause after declaring his intent to play for Ireland at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

This announcement, just two days after official confirmation that The Open is to return to Royal Portrush, represents another massive boost for golf in Ireland and, almost certainly, will see the support for McIlroy around Fota Island during this week's Irish Open become even more enthuiastic.

As a multiple Major Champion and the most exciting young player to hit the world golf scene since Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy's five year quandary over which country to play for, if any, when golf returns to the Olympics, has been a matter of global interest and even concern.

The prospect of, potentially, the No 1 golfer on the planet not being in the field in Rio was grim indeed for those who campaigned long and hard for the sport's readmission to the Olympic family.

That he has opted for Ireland and not Team GB is not the most significant issue for those charged with the best interests of golf going forward. When the lengthy process of golf's reinstatement to the summer Games formally was announced in August 2009, McIlroy, at that time aged just 20 and playing in the US PGA Championship at Hazeltine, responded positively to the news.

His imagination caught by the performance of Tom Daley in the diving competition at the previous year's Games in Beijing, McIlroy said in a post-round TV interview that it would, indeed, be exciting to be in the same team as the British teenager.

This instinctive response from a young lad who grew up in Holywood inevitably sparked debate about which of the two countries he's entitled by law to represent but McIlroy would choose.

And that discussion grew ever more intense as his stock on the world stage soared with victories at the 2011 US Open and the 2012 US PGA.

Especially when in September 2012 McIlroy was quoted as saying he felt "more British than Irish". This comment inevitably caused quite a stir in Ireland – north and south.

When Peter Dawson, President of the International Golf Federation and Chief Executive of the R&A, suggested that playing in a World Cup might bind a player to that country at the Olympics, as Rory had already done for Ireland, McIlroy responded by saying that the call was his alone. He made that call yesterday, saying: "It obviously was quite a sensitive issue for me. I probably made it more sensitive than it needed to be in some ways.

"But when I actually sat down and thought about it and thought about all the times I've had playing for Ireland in amateur golf, from boys level up through youths to senior and how happy I was to pull on that shirt or the uniform, I didn't see any reason to change that just because I'm in the professional ranks."

On playing for Ireland at the Olympics, he added: "basically it's a continuation of what I've always done. The Golfing Union of Ireland have been really good to me over the years growing up as an amateur and helping fund my amateur career and helping me get to the position I am today.

"Even though there was a decision to make, I sort of realised pretty quickly there really wasn't a decision to make and I thought it was the right time to make an announcement," McIlroy said, pointing out watching the World Cup in Brazil "sort of got me thinking maybe I should go ahead and get it out of the way."

McIlroy insisted he sought nobody else's counsel, nor was he pressured into a decision.

"There's been a lot of people giving their opinion on what they think I should do but, at the end of the day, it's a decision I had to make for myself," he added.

"I didn't want the decision made for me because it's something I have to live with. I had a right to make this decision and it was all mine. It's taken me long enough to get over the hurdle but it's definitely the right decision."

As for any suggestion that he might not play in Rio, McIlroy said: "It would have been a very selfish decision. It wouldn't have been good for the game of golf at all. Not playing wasn't an option."

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