By Andrew Both
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (Reuters) – Rory McIlroy is “most likely” to play next year’s Olympic golf in Tokyo and would represent Ireland rather than Britain, the Northern Irishman said on Tuesday.
McIlroy, 30, could compete for either team, a decision he said two years ago that he resented having to make.
The four-times major champion skipped the 2016 Rio Olympics, citing concerns over the Zika virus and saying he would probably not even watch the golf at the Games, tuning in only for the “stuff that matters”.
“I’m excited to be going to the Olympics. I’m excited to play for Ireland,” McIlroy said on Tuesday, describing his decision to represent Ireland over Britain as a “sensitive landscape”.
He reiterated that he considers the four major championships to be the pinnacle of golf, and that his visit to Tokyo would be a hit-and-run mission between regular tournaments on the schedule.
“As a young boy it was always my dream to play for Ireland. I wanted to play for Ireland. I was very proud to put on that shirt or that blazer,” McIlroy said.
“So then obviously when you put the Olympics into the equation and there’s a choice to be made, you really have to start thinking, ‘okay, what are your beliefs and your values’.
“It makes you sort of have to delve a little bit deeper. It’s not just a superficial decision. It’s something that you have to really believe in.”
After many big names skipped Rio, where golf returned to the Olympics after a century-long absence and England’s Justin Rose won the gold medal, Tokyo is shaping up as a big tournament, with Tiger Woods revealing on Tuesday that he planned to play if eligible.
The men’s Olympic golf will be held at the Kasumigaseki course in suburban Tokyo from July 30-Aug. 2.
“I’ve thought about that for a long time, and in the end, it was the fact that when I was a little boy and I got that first call up to the national squad … I was so proud,” McIlroy said.
“So why would it be any different just because it’s a different golf tournament or because it’s a different arena or a different environment?”
(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Ed Osmond)