Sunday 25 June 2017

McIlroy feels no 'connection' with British or Irish flags

Rory McIlroy of Europe celebrates after sinking a putt at The 2016 Ryder Cup. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Rory McIlroy of Europe celebrates after sinking a putt at The 2016 Ryder Cup. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

No regrets, no interest - that is Rory McIlroy's verdict on the return of golf to the Olympic Games in Rio.

McIlroy revealed in a Sunday Independent interview yesterday how he felt under pressure about the Games since 2009, following the announcement that golf would be part of the Olympics schedule for 2016.

The Northern Ireland man felt conflicted; he was brought up in Belfast but played golf for the 32 counties under the GUI banner.

As events transpired, the Zika virus fears gave the four-time Major champion a legitimate reason to opt out, despite declaring earlier for Ireland.

We will never know what would have happened if the Zika scare had not occurred, but McIlroy was never turned on by the prospect of playing in the Olympics because of his heritage.

"When it was announced (that golf was to be an Olympic sport) in 2009 or whatever, all of a sudden it put me in a position where I had to question who I am. Who am I? Where am I from? Where do my loyalties lie? Who am I going to play for? Who do I not want to piss off the most? I started to resent it. And I do. I resent the Olympic Games because of the position it put me in - that's my feeling towards it - and whether that's right or wrong, it's how I feel," he said.

The writer of the article, Paul Kimmage, had teed up a question on that topic by texting "anseo", the Irish for "here", when he arrived at McIlroy's hotel for the interview.

McIlroy admitted that he had to resort to Google to find the meaning of the word.

He went on to explain his feelings about being a global golf star who comes from an island which for hundreds of years has existed with two polarised communities.

That was evident in his response to the victory of Justin Rose in the men's Olympic golf competition.

McIlroy said: "I sent Justin Rose a text after he won, I think I still have the message: 'I'm happy for you, mate. I saw how much it means to you. Congratulations.' He said: 'Thanks very much. All the boys here want to know do you feel like you missed out?'

"I said: 'Justin, if I had been on the podium (listening) to the Irish national anthem as that flag went up, or the British National anthem as that flag went up, I would have felt uncomfortable either way.'

"I don't know the words to either anthem; I don't feel a connection to either flag; I don't want it to be about flags; I've tried to stay away from that."

In an extensive interview of more than 8,000 words, McIlroy opened up about his inherent love of golf, and how he initially got wrapped up in a lifestyle he would deem as 'not normal.'

Kimmage: "When are we talking about?"

McIlroy: "Probably after I won my first Major in 2011. I got exposed to all these different things and it felt like (I had) a different status. As a 22-year-old it's very easy to be taken by it - meeting all these people and thinking it's cool: 'Oh, I've got such-and-such's number!'

"You're enjoying yourself and having a great time but it's not . . . real. It's not fulfilling. It's not meaningful in any way. It's just very superficial."

He was only 24 in 2013, with two Major titles on his golfing CV, when he decided to consult a sports psychologist to assess where he stood in life and in his career, and since then has gone from strength to strength.

"The day I always go back to is the 2013 Open at Muirfield . . . It was the most homesick I have ever felt, which didn't make sense, because I'd spent the whole week before with my friends and family at home. I don't know, I was just a bit . . . lost I suppose," he said.

In 2014, he had a stellar year, winning the US PGA Championship for the second time, and also the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

Part two of Paul Kimmage's exclusive interview will be published next Sunday.

Irish Independent

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