Rory McIlroy’s insistence in Atlanta yesterday that he has been forced to “reconsider” his position on the 2016 Olympics puts in perspective how little serious thought he had given that particularly thorny question until it was too late.
While the world No 1 claimed yesterday that it would be “terrible for me to nearly segregate myself from one of those groups that supports me so much,” he had obviously given scant thought to how he might address the question since the subject was first mentioned in August 2009.
When it comes to Ireland - north and south - the delicate question of nationality and identity requires some of the nimble-footed diplomacy shown by the player as he attempted to smooth over the hobnailed boot prints he made last week.
Baldly telling the Daily Mail’s Derek Lawrenson that he always felt “more British than Irish” brought matters to a head, no doubt sending the marketing departments of the tourism bodies north and south of the border into a tizzy and alienating thousands of fans.
“Maybe it was the way I was brought up, I don’t know, but I have always felt more of a connection with the UK than with Ireland,” he said.
His management company will have been wringing their hands wondering about the potential fallout and the reaction from his American fan base, most of whom have always assumed that McIlroy as greener than green.
The reality is very different, of course, and he has been on a damage limitation campaign since.
It began with an “Open Letter” released on twitter on the same day his remarks were published in the Daily Mail and continued ahead of the Tour Championship in Atlanta yesterday.
“I think it just really hit home with me how important it is for a lot of people and how important my success has been to them,” he said when asked to comment on the seismic media reaction to his comments on who he might represent in the Rio Olympics.
“Obviously, I’ve had a lot of support from all sides, from people that call themselves Irish, from Northern Irish, to the whole of the UK, to people over here in the states. I’ve had support from everyone.
“It just hit home with me at how my success is welcomed by everyone. It would be terrible for me to nearly segregate myself from one of those group that supports me so much. So as I said in my letter last week, it’s four years away. I still have a bit of time to decide.
“After everything that happened last week, it definitely makes me reconsider my position and reconsider a lot of things. But, yeah, I’m very, very appreciative, and very grateful of the support that I get from everyone. That’s all I can really say on it.”
Asked by a New York Times reporter if he felt “burdened by expectations of all these different factions” because of an accident of birth, McIlroy replied: “No, I never have felt a burden of expectation because I always have said that I expect a lot from myself.
“The only pressure that I feel is the pressure that I put on myself to perform well. It’s great that I get so much support. It’s great that everyone from all parts of the world support me and are behind me.
“Yes, there are not many people in my position that have to go through what I might have to go through in four years’ time, but it is what it is.
“I’m a golfer first and foremost, and I just want to play well on the golf course. Hopefully people enjoy that and the entertainment that that brings.”