'To be called a fascist or bigot is ridiculous' - McIlroy insists outing with Trump not an endorsement
World number three Rory McIlroy has defended his right to play a round of golf with US President Donald Trump and slammed those calling him a 'fascist' and a 'bigot' for doing so.
The 45th president of the United States is a keen golf fan and owns several courses around the world, and Northern Irishman McIlroy accepted an offer from the polarising new commander-in-chief to join him on the fairways at Trump International in Florida at the weekend.
Trump's contentious comments and actions, both before and since taking office, have been criticised by some sports people, and Martellus Bennett is among several New England Patriots who plan to swerve their Super Bowl celebration at The White House as a result of its current incumbent's views.
McIlroy found himself on the receiving end of a barrage of criticism and abuse for accepting the invitation and hit back at those who branded him a 'fascist' and a 'bigot' in a strongly worded statement this evening.
"I don't agree with everything my friends and family say or do, but I still play golf with them," read the statement released through his Twitter account.
"Last week, I was invited to play golf with the President of the United States.
"Whether you respect the person who holds that position or not, you respect the office that he holds.
"This wasn't an endorsement not a political statement of any kind. It was, quite simply, a round of golf.
"Golf was our common ground, nothing else. I've travelled all over the world and have been fortunate enough to befriend people from many different countries, beliefs and cultures.
"To be called a fascist and a bigot by some people because I spent time in someone's company is just ridiculous. I hope, to some degree, this clarifies my decision to accept the invitation that was extended to me."
McIlory finished his post by saying he was looking forward to returning from injury in Mexico, the United States' neighbour and the country from which Trump plans to stop illegal immigrants crossing the border into the US by building a wall.
The World Golf Championship tournament was moved away from the Trump-owned Doral course in Miami by the PGA Tour in a move which at the time angered the man who later became president.
McIlroy's post ended: "Thanks to everyone for your continued support and I look forward to making my comeback in Mexico next week!"
In an interview with The Guardian today, McIlroy expressed his intrigue in Trump's rise to power.
"I really got into it once Trump ran because I knew him a little bit but at the same time I was intrigued how a successful businessman could transition into running for the highest office in the land," the 27-year-old added.
"It is a totally different process from the UK. He obviously came at it from a completely different angle.
"I've said it to the man himself; on a Tuesday night at a tournament, if there was a live (political) debate, I would get room service, stick on CNN and just watch. It was pure entertainment, even if you didn't understand politics it was this complete phenomenon.
"Something like this probably won't happen again in our lifetime. I'm very attuned to it, I watch a lot of news. You can't avoid it. I had no interest in politics until a couple of years ago; now I can't seem to get away from it.
"I feel like I've stayed unpolitical in terms of Northern Ireland and all that goes on there but because I'm not an American I don't feel a real part of it; I'm just interested by the phenomenon of it all. I don't really care about the policies. The whole circus, this big show is intriguing to watch."