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Rory McIlroy says what golf is really thinking about Olympic inclusion

By Paul Mahoney

Finally, the elephant in the room has not only been addressed; it has been released to trample all over the Olympics. Rory McIlroy played the Zika virus card last month to pull out of Ireland's team for Rio. At Royal Troon yesterday, where he is gearing up for The Open, he was asked what sports he would watch at this summer's Games.

His answer said what many believe most golfers are thinking but afraid of saying. "Probably the events like track and field, swimming, diving," the Ulsterman said, pausing briefly before adding: "The stuff that matters."

The expression on his face said he knew the impact of what he was saying. In the post-truth world of politics that we have been cast into and the vanilla PR soundbites churned out by most footballers, let it never be said that McIlroy doesn't speak his mind.

And whether people agree with him or not, his honesty should be applauded. The shock of his words in his press conference couldn't have been more noticeable if the Holywood man had stood on the table and banged a big bass drum.

McIlroy wasn't finished yet. He had a trumpet to blow. Jordan Spieth's (below) press conference had preceded McIlroy's and the American spoke at length about how his decision not to go to Rio was "the hardest he had ever had to make".

The contrast in McIlroy's answer couldn't have been more pronounced. He said: "Honestly, I don't think it was as difficult a decision for me as it was for him."

When challenged if he thought he had betrayed the game, the four-time Major winner said: "I don't feel like I've let the game down at all. I didn't get into golf to try and grow the game.

"I got into golf to win Championships and win Major Championships, and all of a sudden you get to this point and there is a responsibility on you to grow the game, and I get that.

"But at the same time that's not the reason I got into golf. I got into golf to win. I didn't get into golf to get other people into the game."

And again, his peers might not thank him for what some will say is courting bad publicity but a secret straw poll along the driving ranges of the professional tours will probably find that McIlroy would have 100% support for that selfish-sounding sentiment.

Sportsmen are, largely, selfish and driven individuals. The ones that aren't tend not to win trophies.

"I get where different people come from and different people have different opinions," McIlroy said.

"But I'm very happy with the decision that I've made and I have no regrets about it. I'll probably watch the Olympics, but I'm not sure golf will be one of the events I'll watch."

Spieth, however, said he will be tuned into Rio despite on Monday night turning down the opportunity to represent Team USA. The Texan is the last of golf's 'Big Four' to withdraw from the Olympics, joining McIlroy, last month's US Open champion Dustin Johnson and Australian Jason Day, the World No.1.

"The hardest decision I have ever made in my life," Spieth said. "I'm a huge believer in Olympic golf and playing for your country. I absolutely look forward to Summer and Winter Olympics. It's the most exciting sporting event for me to watch on TV.

"This year I just had to try and weigh a risk that doesn't present itself every year. I don't expect anybody to understand, but trust that I believe I'm making the right decision for myself, for my future and for those around me," he said.

"It is going to be difficult for me to watch my peers compete for a gold medal, or any medal, and watch people stand on the stage and hear the national anthem playing. I'll make it a goal to be at Tokyo in 2020."

The decision whether or not to keep golf as an Olympic sport will be taken next year.

The mass exodus from even boarding a private jet to Rio by golf's stellar players will not have done the case for the sport any good in the eyes of the International Olympic Committee.

"Do I think it looks bad for golf?" Spieth asked himself aloud. "Maybe. Again, I'm making the decision of what I think is best for me. I don't feel like I have to carry the torch for the sport or anyone else.

"This is bigger than that for me. I can tell you that I'm not specifically pinpointing any one thing in my health concerns either."

So perhaps there is more to his withdrawal than just the Zika virus. But he refused to reveal any more.

Any scepticism about McIlroy's decision had been dismissed. He clearly isn't bothered about golf in the Olympics. But for those still citing Zika, there are raised eyebrows.

Where are the other Olympians running away from Rio?

"I can understand why people are sceptical. But they are not in my shoes," Spieth said. "It may well be (an overreaction) but I don't know. It will loom over me throughout the Games, for sure.

"I will be pretty upset that I'm not there. When I watch the opening ceremony, that's going to be a big bummer. I'll be texting with Rickie (Fowler) throughout as a good friend of mine," Spieth said. "He said I'd be jealous when he won the gold medal."

The Olympics/Zika virus debate has overshadowed the run-up to the 145th Open. But come tomorrow morning, there will be an outbreak of golf fever on this Ayrshire coastline.

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