FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Rory McIlroy once said he resented the Olympics. That’s all changed. McIlroy reversed his stance and wants to play at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
“More likely than not I will play. I think it would be a great experience,” McIlroy said when asked by NBCSports.com at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Tuesday. “I’m excited to play for Ireland.
“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 to do that.”
McIlroy, a native of Northern Ireland, skipped golf’s return to the Olympics in Rio, citing Zika virus concerns two months before the Opening Ceremony. He had the choice of playing for Ireland or Great Britain, since Northern Ireland does not field a separate Olympic team, and chose Ireland before announcing his withdrawal.
In the months that followed the Games, McIlroy hinted that other reasons went into his decision, perhaps primarily — that he didn’t consider Olympic golf that prestigious. Or because of the politics concerning which country he would represent.
He doubled down on the latter in January 2017. McIlroy said in one interview that he resented the Olympics “because of the position it put me in” for having to choose between representing two flags with which he felt no connection.
Two days later, the BBC published a video interview where McIlroy said it was fantastic that golf rejoined the Olympics, but he was unlikely to go for Tokyo 2020 given his unique situation.
On Tuesday, McIlroy reminisced glowingly about representing Ireland in the past. He last did so at the World Cup of Golf in 2011.
“As a young boy it was always my dream to play for Ireland,” he said. “I was very proud to put on that shirt or that blazer.
“When you put the Olympics into the equation, and then there’s a choice to be made, you really have to start thinking, OK, well, what are your beliefs and your values and your — 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.
“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? That was basically what it came down to.”
McIlroy is very likely to qualify for the Olympics. Nations can qualify up to two golfers once past the top 15 in the world rankings, and McIlroy (No. 4) and Shane Lowry (No. 45) are the only Irishmen in the current top 100.
McIlroy had several conversations over the last two months with Neil Manchip, Ireland’s nominated team leader for the Olympics, Manchip said.
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