'Worried' Rory announces he will go for gold in green at the 2016 Olympics
RORY McIlroy admitted he worried about the reaction he would get before declaring for Ireland ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games.
The 25-year-old Co Down-born golfer ended almost a decade of debate by confirming he will play golf for Ireland, as he has since he was a schoolboy.
His decision was greeted with disappointment in Britain where it was thought he would help spearhead their team for Rio de Janeiro in two years' time.
The golfer was visibly surprised when he received a round of applause from the Irish media as he confirmed his allegiance at an Irish Open press conference at Fota Resort in east Cork.
He said it was not a decision he took lightly.
"(I was) more worried about what other people would think rather than, you know, me. But you have got to do what is right for yourself and what you feel comfortable with. Ultimately, that was the decision I made."
As recently as January 2013, McIlroy said: "If there was a Northern Irish team I'd play for Northern Ireland."
He even suggested he might not play at all in the 2016 Olympics because whatever decision he made would undoubtedly offend someone.
But yesterday he had clearly made his mind up.
"I see this as a continuation of what I have always done," the star said.
But the two-time Major winner acknowledged the issue of who to represent in the Olympic Games had dominated his thoughts over recent weeks given the build-up to the Brazil 2014 World Cup.
"I have been thinking about it a lot. I don't know if it is because the World Cup is in Brazil and I was thinking a couple of years down the line.
"It really got me thinking that maybe I should just go ahead and get it out of the way. I am really looking forward now to the Olympics in a couple of years' time.
"I was thinking about all the times I have played for Ireland as a boy...For me, it is the right decision to play for Ireland. Not as big as a Major championship, but it (the Olympics) is right up there."
He pointed out that golf, like other sports such as hockey and rugby, treat Ireland as one when it comes to sport.
His declaration became the news of the day at the east Cork course, and the golfer was cheered multiple times as he played in the pro-am. He also received support from Irish golfers including Padraig Harrington, Shane Lowry, Paul McGinley and Graeme McDowell.
Harrington said the young golfer had been placed in "a horrible position" by the issue.
"I was always very proud to put on the Irish uniform and play as an amateur and as a boy. I would be very proud to do it again," said McIlroy.
McDowell said: "It makes sense that the best players in Ireland, whether it be north or south of the border, should want to represent Ireland in the Olympic Games".
The one note of criticism was sounded by Olympic medal winning boxer Paddy Barnes.
"The reason I don't like McIlroy representing Ireland at the Olympics is because he doubted going for Ireland, you should be proud to," the Belfast star wrote on Twitter.
The decision to play for Ireland came after McIlroy's high-profile split last month from Danish tennis star, Caroline Wozniacki, who he was to marry later this year.
It also followed golf's governing body the Royal & Ancient (R&A) commenting on the issue.
"I think because Rory's history of playing for Ireland at amateur level and, I think at World Cup level, that there may be a regulation within the Olympic rules that would require him to stay with that," said R&A chief executive, Peter Dawson.