Wednesday 18 October 2017

Playing for Ireland: Graeme McDowell nails colours to mast for Rio

Graeme McDowell believes he will compete for Ireland at the Olympics in 2016
Graeme McDowell believes he will compete for Ireland at the Olympics in 2016

Karl MacGinty

WITH his opening tee shot at the World Cup of Golf at Royal Melbourne in the early hours of this morning, Graeme McDowell resolved his Olympic dilemma, but Rory McIlroy still must decide whom he'll play for, if anyone, at the 2016 Games.

By teeing it up for Ireland at the World Cup, McDowell is now bound to represent this island in Rio in three years' time, according to International Golf Federation President Peter Dawson's interpretation of the Olympic eligibility rules.

Dawson, who also is chief executive of the R&A, spoke out on this issue last May to ease the quandary faced by McDowell and McIlroy after golf's readmission to the Olympics required them to choose between Ireland and the UK.

World golf chiefs promised the IOC that the sports biggest stars would play in 2016, so they were alarmed when McIlroy said he may sit out the Games rather than pick a side.

However, the Holywood native brushed aside Dawson's helpful suggestion, saying the decision would be his alone. At that time, McIlroy revealed he'd not play with McDowell on the two-man Irish 'team' at this week's World Cup. Later it emerged that he is prevented from performing anywhere in Australia at this time under the terms of the contract he signed to play in next week's Australian Open at Royal Sydney. McDowell is delighted to have the thorny Olympic issue taken out of his hands.

"It has been a touchy political and religious subject for us Northern Irish players over the last few years," he explained.

"One that myself and Rory have not really enjoyed answering questions about because it's very difficult to pick a side – inevitably, you're going to end up upsetting someone.

"We grew up playing for Ireland, as golf is an all-island sport. The GUI looks after all the players on the island and I've always enjoyed being part of that.

"When it comes to the Olympic discussion, questions arise as to who we play for. I was always very much trying to sit on the fence, because I did not want to have to make that decision. It's an unfair decision to put in the players' hands."

GLOBAL

Ironically, the team element has been watered down in this year's World Cup of Golf, with $7m of the $8m prize fund and, for the first time, world ranking points being awarded in the individual competition to try and attract more global stars.

Yet by playing at Royal Melbourne, McDowell is 'representing' Ireland in a 'world championship'. Therefore, under Rule 41 (Bye Law 2) of the Olympic Charter, for the next three years, he'll be ineligible to represent any other country at the Games.

"I believe that me being here this week will mean I have to play for Ireland in Rio, if I qualify," said McDowell. "So part of me feels relieved to not have to make that decision."

McDowell's townsfolk in Portrush, meanwhile, need not hold their breath in anticipation of the golf's fourth Major, the US PGA, being played on their doorstep.

PGA of America president Ted Bishop stirred a welter of excitement in some British and Irish media outlets last week when he said on 'The Golf Channel' that Royal Portrush would be his choice as first venue if the PGA Championship went overseas.

Yet Bishop back-pedalled furiously in a radio interview with Matt Adams on America's 'Back9' network, insisting he was merely expressing a personal opinion, that the PGA hadn't started really exploring the concept of taking the tournament overseas and, if they did, it wouldn't happen for at least 10 years.

As for potential venues, the PGA president said Asia probably would be most people's choice, while Australia is very keen on the idea. He refuted widespread media assertions that his nomination of Portrush was in any way intended "as another shot by Bishop at the R&A or Peter Dawson."

Bishop also admitted he'd never been to Northern Ireland, adding: "I've spent a lot of time on their website looking at that golf course actually in preparation to answering that question (on Golf Channel) last week."

World Cup of Golf, Live, tomorrow, Sky Sports 4, 2.0am

Irish Independent

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