McDowell in fruitless World Cup call to headstrong McIroy

Rory McIlroy rubs his eyes before his media conference at Sawgrass on Wednesday.Chubby Chandler couldn’t do it and nor can his current agent, Conor Ridge.

Not even his friend Graeme McDowell, arugably the canniest of pros, can exert any much influence over Rory McIlroy. And that’s a shame because McDowell talks a lot of sense.

“He’s the boss,” Ridge told the New York Times’ Karen Crouse for a recent piece on McIlroy’s “brand”, a concept that the player himself has been keen to promote since he was in the ISM stable.

In fact, the whole branding issue was part of the reason McIlroy left Chandler sitting in an airport lounge wondering how he’d managed to loss the hottest property in golf at the end of 2011.

Fast forward 19 months or so and McIlroy continues to make headlines for his independent streak. There’s nothing wrong with being headstrong and sticking to your guns but McIlroy is not doing himself any favours either.

Now 24, he’s had a tough time for most of this year. The move to Nike has not been smooth, he’s walked off a golf course in mid-round in a fit of pique (and toothache) and lost his world No 1 ranking to Tiger Woods.

Add to that the speculation over who he might represent in the 2016 Olympics and it’s no wonder he likes to get away from the game at the first opportunity to spend time with his girlfriend.

Slowly but surely he’s taken steps to improve his golf by working harder in practice with his coach and playing more frequently. But when it comes to the Olympics Games issue, he appears to want help from nobody. In fact, he’s rapidly painting himself into the kind of corner he’s always wanted to avoid.

Peter Dawson, CEO of the R&A and head of the International Golf Federation which is the game’s governing body when it comes to the Olympics, made a helpful suggestion last month that might relieve McIlroy of the burden of having to make the difficult choice between Ireland and Team GB for Rio in 2016.

But McIlroy refused to walk through that door and took things a step further by suggesting he wouldn’t be railroaded into playing for Ireland - a country he never named - because of precedents at amateur or at  World Cup level alongside McDowell.

Graeme McDowell is happy to play for Ireland in the World Cup. As he told RTE last year: “I feel I am more than just a flag. I play golf and I am an international sportsperson and it doesn’t tie me to one flag or one allegiance and it’s just been a tough position to be put in.”

It was McDowell who suggested that having the Olympics decision taken out of their hands by officialdom might be the perfect solution to the GB or Ireland dilemma.

But last week McIlroy slammed the door in Dawson’s face for suggesting that precedents could “tie” a player to Ireland when it comes to the Olympics.

He’s not keen on being forced to play for anyone. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “forced to play for someone.” And that means no World Cup for fear it might leave him in a bind and obliged to play for Ireland should Dawson’s “suggestion” suddenly became an administrative reality.
 
After giving a straight “No” to the World Cup question at Quail Hollow last week, McIlroy addressed Dawson’s interpretation of the Olympic Charter and said: “I think it’s Rule 41 but I still have a choice. They can’t take it away from me.

“If you change country or don’t play for that country for three years you still have a choice.  I’ve not played for anyone [Ireland] since the World Cup in 2011, the Olympics would be five years so I still have a choice.”

Should the Executive Committee of the IOC decide that McIlroy’s precedents with Ireland will bind him to the tricolour for Rio 2016, McIlroy wants to retain his right to choose under the Olympic Charter

To keep those options open, he’s made it quite clear that he will not line out for Ireland under the tricolour in this year’s World Cup of Golf, even though his playing partner McDowell this week pleaded with him to reconsider.

Embracing a potential third successive World Cup appearance for Ireland at Royal Melbourne later this year, G-Mac said: “It’s an event I’d love to play.

“If it compels me, forces me into playing for Ireland at the Olympics in 2016, so be it.”

Not Rory.

Told that McIlroy plans to give this year’s World Cup the thumbs down, McDowell said: “I know. That’s what I said to him last night. ‘What are you doing? I need my partner in crime in Melbourne.’

“They haven’t put the qualifying parameters around the Olympics yet but the World Cup is an event I always found to be fun playing.

“Regardless of whether Rory wants to play or not, I want to play this year.

“If it works, I’d like him to be there as well. If it compels me to play for Ireland in the Olympics, so be it.”

McIlroy and McDowell have played two World Cups for Ireland, finishing second in the 2009 and fourth two years ago.

And while Portrush native McDowell feels bad that McIlroy has been under massive pressure to pick a side, he’s not losing sleep over golf’s return in Rio in 2016 just yet.

McDowell said: “I haven’t thought about it much to be honest. It is 2016 and I think you can ask any golfer on the range this week and they probably haven’t quantified in their head what the Olympics are going to mean to them.

“It is just that Rory and I come from one of those unique parts of the world where we have access to both the UK and Ireland.

“And I feel bad, especially for Rory, that he has come under so much fire and speculation for having to make that decision.”

Had McIlroy said nothing last week and accepted Dawson’s flawed but well-meaning proposal, he might have save himself further grief on the matter.

Now, it appears highly likely that he will have to do something he always wanted to avoid - make a decision.

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