Rory McIlroy decided he will represent Ireland rather than Great Britain should he play at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the first Olympic golf tournament in 112 years.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” McIlroy reportedly said ahead of this week’s Irish Open on Wednesday. “I don’t know whether it’s been because the World Cup has been in Brazil and I’ve been thinking a couple of years down the line.
“Thinking about all the times that I played as an amateur for Ireland and as a boy and everything, I think for me it’s the right decision to play for Ireland in 2016.”
McIlroy is from Northern Ireland, which does not field a separate Olympic Team. Northern Ireland athletes have been known to compete for Great Britain, such as Beijing track cycling silver medalist Wendy Houvenaghel, or for Ireland, as 2010 U.S. Open winning golfer Graeme McDowell is expected to do.
McIlroy’s long-awaited decision was a difficult one, as he has shied away from talking about the subject over the last couple years. International Golf Federation officials said in May they wanted the nationality policy in place by July, two years before the Olympic golf fields are determined.
McIlroy, 25, is a two-time major champion and ranked No. 6 in the world. His path to qualifying for the Olympics is easier as an Irish golfer than a British one.
The Olympic golf field will invite everybody from the world top 15, with no more than four players per nation, from the world rankings in July 2016. Beyond the top 15, the field will be filled according to the rankings with a maximum of two players per country that does not already have two or more in the top 15.
McIlroy is currently the No. 1 golfer from Ireland or Great Britain.
The next highest ranked Irish (or Northern Ireland) golfers are No. 22 McDowell, No. 75 Shane Lowry, No. 199 Michael Hoey and No. 233 Padraig Harrington.
The next highest ranked British golfers are No. 10 Justin Rose, No. 20 Luke Donald, No. 25 Ian Poulter and No. 30 Lee Westwood.