The never-ending debate over where Rory McIlroy is from has once again come to the fore (no pun intended) as the world’s best – or what ever depleted number of top players bothered to play – tee it up in Tokyo this week for the 2020 Olympics and team Ireland is represented by Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy.
The latter was due to represent Ireland alongside Pádraig Harrington in Rio 2016 but withdrew citing fears of the infamous Zika virus that became a tongue and cheek excuse for many golfers to hide the fact they couldn’t be damned to make the trip to Brazil.
McIlroy later admitted that political issues weighed heavy in his decision not to compete in the Olympics, which he received widespread criticism for from Irish golf fans across the country.
But why? Why is it that when somebody is born and raised in Northern Ireland, they must choose whether they are Irish or British? Why can’t Rory be Northern Irish?
The four-time major champion represented the Golfing Union of Ireland with distinction throughout his amateur career knowing full well the criticism he may face and has faced regarding his international allegiance.
It is easy to use his hesitancy over who he wants to represent as a stick to beat him with when he performs poorly or doesn’t show the same appetite as Clara’s Shane Lowry – who is as Irish as the day is long – in how he portrays his nationalism. But we must remember what McIlroy has done for Irish golf. In fact, his decision to represent Ireland in the Tokyo games is not only great for Irish golf as our island looks to punch above its weight again in world sport but is great for the sport as golf looks to establish itself in the Olympic realm.
If it wasn’t for Rory McIlroy, there would be no Irish Open. Before he put his heart and soul into sponsoring it, our home Open was heavily reliant on additional funding from the European Tour. It is thanks to him and his ground-breaking sponsorship of his home Open that it became one of the poster events on the European Tour, donning a Rolex status during that time. He also raised millions of Euro for charitable causes during his life-saving four-year tenure as tournament host.
Are the same fans who bellowed out his name on the 18th green at the K Club in 2016 forgetting that for five years we were treated to stars like current world number one Jon Rahm, Masters champion, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler – to name a few – who made the trip across the Atlantic.
McIlroy’s celebrations as he hit that towering 5wood to 3-feet on the 18th were enough to show how much winning an Irish Open meant to him.
McIlroy celebrates after sinking the winning putt on the 18th green in 2016 by Golffile
His absence from Lahinch 2019 was disappointing but understandable and it raised issues around the Irish Open’s slot in the European Tour schedule, which hasn’t been resolved two years on.
If Lowry and McIlroy can spearhead Ireland to a medal at this year’s games, why should McIlroy be emblazoned with the tri-colour? Yet when he has been dressed in a Northern Ireland flag for the post Ryder Cup celebrations with his fellow European team-mates nobody bats an eyelid.
I am not for one second suggesting all these political issues weigh heavily on his mind and will have a negative impact on his performance in Tokyo. No, I believe he will give his best for Ireland because he is the ultimate professional and he wouldn’t dare let down his friend Shane Lowry.
The point is winning a medal this week won’t mean the same for McIlroy as it will Lowry, but that doesn’t mean he won’t want to win.
As someone who doesn’t like to get involved in all these nationalistic anti-English jibes, I mean some of my favourite golfers are English. I would have absolutely no problem if somebody made the bold decision to give Rory a Northern Irish flag should he need one on the podium.
In fairness to McIlroy, he showed more consistency in his sly digs towards the English soccer team in his press conferences and post-round interviews this summer than he has on the golf course, so it is not like he is parading his allegiance to the Queen either.
He doesn’t present himself as English and he shouldn’t be forced into being a devout Irishman, he is Northern Irish and that’s that.