Will Northern Ireland golfer Graeme McDowell represent Ireland or Great Britain at the 2016 Olympics?
He might not have a choice.
The 2010 U.S. Open champion, 34, will compete for Ireland at the World Cup of Golf for the fourth straight time this week.
In general, athletes playing for one country in international competition must wait three years before being able to compete for another country. That could mean McDowell wouldn’t be able to compete for Great Britain if he wanted to, since the Rio Olympics are less than three years away.
McDowell is aware.
“So I believe that me being here and representing Ireland will, you know, with the Olympic regulations, will mean that I am, I will have to play for Ireland when it comes to the Olympics in 2016,” he told reporters. “So if eligible, if fit enough … part of me feels relieved to not have to make that decision. It takes care of another very sensitive problem that I, myself, and Rory [McIlroy] in particular, have not enjoyed talking about.”
McDowell’s countryman McIlroy is in a similar situation to McDowell, being able to compete for either Ireland or Great Britain in 2016. He, too, is aware of the three-year policy. McIlroy is not competing at the World Cup, though, and has not committed to a country.
It would certainly be easier for McDowell and McIlroy to qualify for Rio as Irishmen rather than Brits. The highest-ranked Irish golfer is No. 75 (Shane Lowry), while there are four Englishmen in the top 23.
McIlroy is No. 6. McDowell is No. 12.
The Olympic golf field regulations call for no more than four golfers per nation if all are ranked in the top 15 or two per nation once past the top 15.
That’s the same criteria used for this week’s World Cup in Melbourne, which many are calling an early preview of the Olympic golf competition since 1904.