Golf’s return to the Summer Olympics is more than two years away, so it’s way too early to predict who will be there. But if a guy qualifies for a spot, it seems that only some crazy unusual circumstances would keep him from going.
The decision to play in the 2016 Rio Games, however, carries much more weight for potential Olympians Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. Both men were born in Northern Ireland, which competes under the Great Britain flag (with England, Scotland and Wales) in the Olympics. But they could wear the colors of Ireland, which has a testy history with Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
McDowell may have made his decision this week by competing in the World Cup of Golf in Melbourne. The tradition in this tournament is for Northern Ireland and Ireland to compete as Ireland. McIlroy is not playing in Melbourne, but has represented Ireland at the World Cup before.
“It is a very touchy political and religious subject, one that myself and Rory have not really enjoyed answering questions about the last few years because it is very difficult to pick a side because you are going to end up upsetting someone from either side, really,” McDowell told reporters Wednesday.
“From my point of view, when the World Cup came back on the schedule and it was coming to Royal Melbourne, I knew that I wanted to be part of this team. We have always represented Ireland when it has come to the World Cup. So I believe that me being here and representing Ireland will, you know, with the Olympic regulations, will mean that I am – I will have to play for Ireland when it comes to the Olympics in 2016… if good enough, if eligible, if fit enough, et cetera, et cetera.”
(After getting that load off his chest, McDowell dropped in a beautiful eagle in his first round of play on Thursday:)
The Olympic rules surrounding which country an athlete must represent are complicated, but typically, if an athlete has previously competed for one particular country in an international event, that is the country they must represent at the Olympics. Considering golf hasn’t been in the Olympics since 1904, golfers will have some leeway.
McDowell and McIlroy have performed quite nicely for Ireland in past World Cups together. In 2011, they tied for fourth as a team, three shots behind the winners from the U.S. Two years earlier, the Irish duo tied for second, one stroke behind Italy.
It must be noted, however, that in the Olympics, there will be no teams in golf. The qualifying process is yet to be finalized, but it is expected that each player will compete for himself, and a country can send a maximum of four players.