DUBLIN — Rory McIlroy says he resented how the Olympics forced him to decide whether he would represent Ireland or Britain and that it reached a point that it “wasn’t worth the hassle” to compete in Rio de Janeiro.
In an interview with the Sunday Independent in Ireland, McIlroy explained why he was so critical of golf’s return to the Olympics during a news conference at The Open last summer.
McIlroy, a four-time major champion from Northern Ireland, cited concerns over the Zika virus as his reason not to go to Rio.
He told the Irish newspaper that when the International Olympic Committee announced in 2009 that golf would be part of the program for the first time since 2004, “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 [upset] the most?” McIlroy said. “I started to resent it. And I do. I resent the Olympic Games because of the position it put me in. That’s my feelings toward it. And whether that’s right or wrong, that’s how I feel.”
McIlroy said he sent a text message to Justin Rose to congratulate him on winning the gold medal in Rio for Britain. He said Rose thanked him and asked if McIlroy felt as though he had 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.” McIlroy told the newspaper. “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.”
McIlroy was among several top stars who opted to skip the Olympics, most citing the Zika virus. He had been scheduled to play for Ireland until announcing in June he would not be going. Jordan Spieth did not announce his decision to miss Rio until a few days before the British Open. McIlroy spoke after Spieth, and the Olympics was brought up again.
McIlroy dismissed the notion that he had let down his sport, saying, “I didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game.” He also said that he probably wouldn’t watch Olympic golf on TV, only “the stuff that matters.”
“Well, I’d had nothing but questions about the Olympics — ‘the Olympics, the Olympics, the Olympics’ — and it was just one question too far,” McIlroy said. “I’d said what I needed to say. I’d got myself out of it, and it comes up again. And I could feel it. I could just feel myself go, ‘Poom!’ And I thought, `I’m going to let them have it.’
“OK, I went a bit far,” he added. “But I hate that term, ‘growing the game.’ Do you ever hear that in other sports? In tennis? Football? ‘Let’s grow the game.’ I mean, golf was here long before we were, and it’s going to be here long after we’re gone. So I don’t get that, but I probably went a bit overboard.”
McIlroy said Olympic golf didn’t mean that much to him.
“It really doesn’t. I don’t get excited about it. And people can disagree, and have a different opinion, and that’s totally fine,” he said. “Each to their own.”
McIlroy, who is to play the South African Open this week, said he has never been driven by nationalism or patriotism because of where he was raised.
“And I never wanted it to get political or about where I’m from, but that’s what it turned into,” he said. “And it just got to the point where it wasn’t worth the hassle.”