Rory McIlroy chose not to participate in the Rio Olympics in 2016 and at the time of his withdrawal, he cited the Zika Virus as his main concern. Recently though, McIlroy cleared up exactly why he chose to skip the tournament that really has little meaning to golfers who have dreamt their whole lives of winning major championships.
McIlroy, who many have tasked with “growing the game,” explained why he hates the term and exactly why he skipped the Olympics in a lengthy interview with Paul Kimmage of the Irish Independent.
"“Okay, I went a bit far. 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, who considers himself from Northern Ireland, had to decide whether he wanted to represent Ireland or Britain in the games and that made him resent them. Knowing that he would upset one of the countries if he chose not to represent them, he decided it was in his best interest not to participate at all.
“Yeah, I mean when it was announced (that golf was to be an Olympic sport) in 2009 or whatever, 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 piss off the most? I started to resent it. And I do. I resent the Olympic Games because of the position it put me in – that’s my feeling towards it – and whether that’s right or wrong, it’s how I feel.”
So even though McIlroy chose to cite Zika at the time of his withdrawal, his motives were clearly in the right place. Why make two countries mad when you have an out and can use it like plenty of other golfers did?
McIlroy went on to say that he was happy for eventual gold medal winner Justin Rose, who is from the U.K., and that not everyone is driven by patriotism.
"“I sent Justin Rose a text after he won, I think I still have the message: ‘I’m happy for you, mate. I saw how much it means to you. Congratulations.’ He said: ‘Thanks very much. All the boys here want to know do you feel like you 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.’ 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.” “Not everyone is (driven by) nationalism and patriotism and that’s never been me, because I felt like I grew up in a place where I wasn’t allowed to be. It was suppressed. I’m very conflicted because I’m a Catholic and… I turned on the TV at home and it was the BBC; I did my GCSEs; I used pounds sterling, stuff like that. So I’m a Catholic but I feel very much ‘Northern Irish’. And I never wanted it to get political or about where I’m from, but that’s what it turned into. And it just got to the point where it wasn’t worth the hassle.”"
So there you have it; the real reason Rory McIlroy decided to skip the Olympics altogether wasn’t for fear of contracting the Zika Virus, but because he didn’t want to upset two countries.
McIlroy also stated regarding Tigers Woods, “I could not live like that,” when Kimmage quotes Michael Bamberger’s book ‘Men in Green’ where he states, “I have heard Palmer, Nicklaus and Watson all say the same thing, each in his own way: I wouldn’t trade places with Tiger Woods for all the money in the world.”
"“I could not live like that. If someone was to say, ‘You can have 14 Majors and 70 wins but have to deal with that, or nine Majors and 40 wins and stay somewhat the same as you are’, I’d take the second option all day.” “I’ve seen it first-hand. I’ve seen what his life is like in Florida. I’ve played golf with him and said: ‘What are you doing tonight? Do you want to come and have dinner with us?’ And he can’t. He just can’t. And for me that’s unfathomable. I could not live like that.”"
In the interview, McIlroy is doing what we want our athletes to do, be honest and share their actual opinion instead of feeding us what we want to hear. This makes him even more likable for me. The thing with Tiger was, and still is, a calculated response and we see some of that with a few of the young guys today, but with McIlroy, it seems as though he’s at a point where he doesn’t care what media, fans, critics say about him or why they question his motives or game.
He’s just being honest.