• Out of Bounds

Silly nationality debate a symptom of Rory's wider fame

ESPN staff
September 12, 2012
Rory McIlroy's nationality has no bearing on his brilliance © Getty Images

You know you've reached another level of stardom when a genuine debate breaks out about which country you might end up representing in a tournament that is a full four years away from starting.

It's not a problem Tiger Woods ever had to deal with, but his past is littered with similar debates that would never raise wider interest if they happened to lesser golfers. Now Rory McIlroy, after a run of winning golf Woods in his prime would have been proud of, is getting more frequent tastes of that same attention.

On Sunday, as he was romping to his second consecutive FedEx Cup playoff event victory (one that, ludicrously, still doesn't remotely guarantee him the $10 million winner's cheque on offer in just over a week's time), he opened a can of worms by revealing to the Daily Mail that he felt "more British than Irish" and so would likely represent the United Kingdom (somewhat confusingly known as Team GB, despite the fact Great Britain does not technically include Northern Ireland) at the 2016 Olympic Games, when golf makes its return.

The fact that McIlroy has yet to even qualify for the event (which has not so much as had a format finalised at this point) did not stop the media coming alive at the news. Irish newspapers felt snubbed, and a backlash from fans in his home island (presumably) led the 23-year-old to issue a hasty letter quelling the fears and knee-jerk reactions.

"I am in an extremely sensitive and difficult position," McIlroy wrote. "I am a proud product of Irish golf and the Golfing Union of Ireland and am hugely honoured to have come from very rich Irish sporting roots. I am also a proud Ulsterman who grew up in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. That is my background and always will be.

"I receive huge support from both Irish and British sports fans alike and it is greatly appreciated.

"I wish to clarify that I have absolutely not made a decision regarding my participation in the next Olympics. On a personal level, playing in the Olympics would be a huge honour. However, the Games in Rio are still four years away and I certainly won't be making any decisions with regards to participating any time soon."

You can debate until the cows come home where McIlroy's allegiances should lie - as he readily admits, he owes much to both flags for the support he has received in getting to this point his career. Ultimately, however, McIlroy's final choice of country has little bearing on anything. Both British and Irish fans should be able to celebrate his performance in Rio, regardless of the banner he is under.

The Olympics, after all, were never meant to be about countries competing against one another (a fact that has been overlooked to a great extent this summer), but rather about the ability of individuals to push against the boundaries of what is possible - testing themselves both against their peers and physical limitations.

McIlroy will get his chance to follow that tradition, injury or other change in circumstances permitting, in 2016. In the meantime, we should drop this silly debate and allow him to concentrate on continuing his blistering form in professional events - where he competes for himself first and foremost, not for the pride of a country.

"The Olympics will be great for the growth of golf on a global scale," McIlroy concluded in his letter, "but my focus right now is on being the best player I can be, trying to win major championships and contributing to what will hopefully be a victorious European side at the Ryder Cup."

The Ryder Cup is about the only time in professional golf where nationality really matters - and there can be no debate about McIlroy's side for that event.

So let's put this little furore to bed, and get back to remarking on the great golf he is currently playing.

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