Graeme McDowell admits he’s relieved that his decision to play for Ireland at this week’s World Cup of Golf in Melbourne will almost certainly take his difficult 2016 Olympic Games decision out of his hands and lead to him playing for Ireland.
The Portrush man has made it clear many times that he’s uncomfortable with being asked to choose between Ireland and Team GB (and Northern Ireland) and wants others to make that choice for him.
R & A Chief Executive Peter Dawson said earlier this year that previous appearances for Ireland at World Cup level could be considered a precedent, forcing players to sit out three years before being eligible to change country again.
With the Olympics less than three years away, a World Cup appearance for Ireland this year is tantamount to agreeing that you may well be ‘forced’ to play for Ireland in Rio. But McDowell told reporters that his decision to play in Melbourne was not made with the Olympics in mind per se - “We grew up wanting to wear the green jacket and have the golf bag with the Ireland logo on it … the Golf Union of Ireland looks after all the players in Ireland and I have always enjoyed being part of that. When it comes to the Olympic discussion, that raises some questions as to who we play for.
“I was always very much trying to sit the fence, again, because I really did not want to have to make that decision. So, you know, part of me feels relieved to not have to make that decision.”
As for absentee Rory McIlroy, who opted not to renew his World Cup partnership with his former stablemate, it has been suggested in the Australian press that his contract to play in the Australian Open in Sydney next week precluded him from teeing it up in another Australian city this year.
Entitled to choose between competing for Ireland or Great Britain, the Northern Ireland pair have been reluctant to commit to either team due to the political ramifications.
That’s why McDowell called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to decide for him. But it appears clear from the comments by Dawson, who President of the International Golf Federation (IGF) that administers golf within the Olympic movement, that he’s happy that his historic allegiance to Ireland will be used to decide his fate.
“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 at Royal Melbourne.
“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.”
Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson has expressed sympathy for the Northern Irishmen’s dilemma, and said earlier this year that he hoped the burden of choice could be taken away from them.
According to Reuters’ Ian Ransom:
“He also suggested McIlroy’s representation of Ireland at the World Cup could possibly preclude him from playing for Team GB at the Games when golf returns to the Olympic fold after a 112-year absence.
McDowell appeared confident the issue was settled.
“Part of me feels relieved to not have to make that decision,” added McDowell, who will team up with Ireland’s Shane Lowry at Royal Melbourne.
“It certainly did not enter into my reasons to wanting to be here this week. I wanted to be here and play with Shane, around Royal Melbourne, in a golf tournament which I have always loved.”
This week’s ISPS HANDA World Cup of Golf has adopted a format similar to the one that will be used for the Olympic Games.
With no foursomes or fouballs this year, “teams” do not even go out together in the same group with $7m of the $8m prize fund destined for the individual title winner. The other $1m is divided between the top three teams.
Under the new format, the winning team will now be decided by their aggregate strokeplay total, while the top individual finishers will gather official World Ranking points for the first time.
According to Reuters US PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem defended the emphasis on the individual as a more “marketable” format:
“We think that it has a better chance of fulfilling its mission which is to create more interest in the game in unique ways,” he said.
“But we will see. If we go down this road and it doesn’t work, we will adjust but we are going to give this every chance to work and we are excited … to see what happens this weekend.”
Despite the World Ranking points on offer, the field is a weak one. While world No 2 Adam Scott will partner Jason Day, world No 7 Matt Kuchar is in Melbourne for the US alongside world No 46 Kevin Streelman.
England’s top four of Justin Rose, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood also turned it down, leaving David Lynn and Chris Wood to fly the flag. In the absence of former No 1 and current No 6 McIlroy, world No 75 Shane Lowry gets his chance to play for Ireland for the first time as a professional.
“Yeah, very excited,” Lowry said. “Obviously I’ve never played in the World Cup before I’ve played for Ireland many times at an amateur level, and this is something that I’m really looking forward to come out and it’s something that I was kind of looking to all year.
“You know, when I heard I was going to be playing on the team with Graeme, I knew it’s a good chance to go down there and do well, and possibly win a World Cup, and it would be great to do that. You know, I’m pretty excited about it.
“I think the ideal scenario would be the two of us in the final group going head-to-head and playing with each other, as well. Yeah, it’s obviously more individual this year, which is good for me in the position I’m in at the minute. I’m about 70 in the world and need to be in the Top-50 in the world. But obviously the team element is big, as well, and to win a World Cup for Ireland would be great.”
Lowry was then asked the strangest question he’ll get for some time:
Q. And for Shane, I understand you’ve got twins due in December, so is there any concerns about an early arrival?SHANE LOWRY: That’s actually not true. Not that I know of, anyways (laughter).PAUL SYMES: That might be David Howell. (Laughter).GRAEME McDOWELL: That was great, we loved that. (Laughter).
Apart from the 26 teams competing in the 60-man field, eight players will compete individually, including former world number one Vijay Singh, who warmed up for the tournament with a third-place finish at the Australian Masters.
Emiliano Grillo Argentina
Fabian Gomez Argentina
Adam Scott Australia
Jason Day Australia
Bernd Wiesberger Austria
Siddikur Rahman Bangladesh
Nicolas Colsaerts Belgium
Adilson da Silva Brazil
Alexandre Rocha Brazil
Brad Fritsch Canada
David Hearn Canada
Felipe Aguilar Chile
Mark Tullo Chile
WC Liang China
Wu A-shun China
Wen-Tang Lin Chinese Taipei
Thomas Bjorn Denmark
Thorbjorn Olesen Denmark
Danny Willett England
Chris Wood England
Vijay Singh Fiji
Mikko Korhonen Finland
Roope Kakko Finland
Gregory Bourdy France
Victor Dubuisson France
Marcel Siem Germany
Maximilian Kieffer Germany
Anirban Lahiri India
Gaganjeet Bhullar India
Shane Lowry Ireland
Graeme McDowell Ireland
Francesco Molinari Italy
Matteo Manassero Italy
Hideto Tanihara Japan
Ryo Ishikawa Japan
Robert-Jan Derksen Netherlands
Tim Sluiter Netherlands
Mike Hendry New Zealand
Tim Wilkinson New Zealand
Espen Kofstad Norway
Angelo Que Philippines
Tony Lascuna Philippines
Jose-Filipe Lima Portugal
Ricardo Santos Portugal
Martin Laird Scotland
Stephen Gallacher Scotland
Branden Grace South Africa
George Coetzee South Africa
K.J. Choi South Korea
Sang-Moon Bae South Korea
Miguel A. Jimenez Spain
Rafael Cabrera Bello Spain
Jonas Blixt Sweden
Peter Hanson Sweden
Kiradech Aphibarnrat Thailand
Prayad Marksaeng Thailand
Kevin Streelman United States
Matt Kuchar United States
Stuart Manley Wales
Brendon de Jonge Zimbabwe