Stephanie Meadow, a Northern Ireland golfer who finished third in her professional debut at the U.S. Women’s Open last month, opted to represent Ireland over Great Britain at the Rio Olympics, should she qualify.
Since Northern Ireland does not compete separately at the Olympics, its golfers, such as Rory McIlroy, had the option of playing under the Irish or British flags.
Meadow, 22, is in better position to qualify for the first Olympic golf tournament since 1904 for Ireland than Great Britain. It’s a similar scenario to that of McIlroy, who also chose Ireland.
The men’s and women’s fields for the 2016 Olympic golf tournaments are set to include 60 players each. Everybody in the top 15 of the world rankings two years from now will be eligible up to four per country.
After that, the fields will be filled by the next highest-ranked players with a maximum of two players per nation.
Meadow is ranked No. 83, the highest of any golfer from Northern Ireland or Ireland. The next-highest is No. 126.
The highest-ranked British golfers are Catriona Matthew (No. 17) and Charley Hull (No. 30).
Meadow, 22, played her college golf at Alabama before turning pro.
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World No. 1 golfer, Rory McIlroy is already threatening to sit out the 2016 Rio Games due to pressure over whether he’ll play for Ireland or Great Britain. Now, champion Irish golfer Padraig Harrington is speaking out for the 23-year-old, saying that the IOC needs to make the call, or else everyone will miss out on Rory’s talents.
“I have massive sympathy as an Irishman and massive sympathy more so as a sportsman,” Harrington told the Belfast Telegraph. “No sportsman should have to make that decision. That’s it, straightforward — nobody at 23 years of age should be asked to make that decision.”
Harrington added that that since golf is returning to the Olympics for the first time in more than a century, it will need the exploits of top young players like McIlroy to drive the storylines, bring in the audience, and prove that their sport belongs on podium along with the rest.
“We have two runs at it and we do, as golfers, have to perform and put our best foot forward, so it would be nice if the world number one is there and he’s supporting the event. It’s an extraordinarily difficult decision. We need our best players to play in the Olympics to show that golf is serious in the Olympics.”