Rory McIlroy will have a decision to make on his Olympic Games future. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.iePadraig Harrington believes Rory McIlroy should tee it up for Great Britain when golf returns to the Olympic Games in 2016.
The Ulster ace, 22, assumed three years ago that he would have to declare for Team GB, delaring during the 2009 US PGA: “If I’m lucky enough to be on Team GB or whatever, it would be great. It would be awesome.”
But with golfers from Northern Ireland faced with a choice between Great Britain and Ireland, Harrington reckons McIlroy and Graeme McDowell could improve an Irishman’s chances of a medal by playing for the Great Britain team.
Speaking to retired tour pro Gary Murphy in an hour-long interview to be broadcast by Setanta Ireland this weekend, Harrington said: “I’m fascinated with all this conversation about who we declare for.
“If Rory and Graeme declare for Great Britain, it means we get two more Irish guys into it. As in myself and Darren Clarke get to play.
“You see the system works if you’re in the top fifteen, you can have more than two from the country. So if somebody wants Rory to be as Irish as he can be, he better declare for GB and we get two more guys in.
“When it comes down to it, it will be a complete no brainer because nobody is losing out, you’re actually just gaining a couple of more spots for Irish guys.”
McIlroy said last year that he still has to make up his mind about his future Olympic allegiances and dodged the question with a curt: “I still don’t know.”
But like McDowell and Harrington, the reigning US Open champion would love to add an Olympic gold medal to his expanding CV.
Speaking before the US PGA in Atlanta last year, Rory said: “It would be a huge honor to represent your country in the Olympics. It would be a great achievement to win a gold medal.
“But you know, as the Olympic Games come closer, I think the excitement will build for it and people will get into it more, and I think it’s great for the game of golf that it’s now become an Olympic sport.
“It will spread the game all over the world and make it recognized in different countries, which can only be good to spread the word about golf.”
McDowell is also undecided about which country he’d like to represent in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and positioned himself firmly on the fence.
Back in 2009, G-Mac explained: “I’ve never been able to explain why golf’s an all Ireland sport and rugby’s an all Ireland sport but soccer is two different teams. It’d be an honour to represent your country and I don’t mind which one I play for.
“It’s the biggest sporting event on the planet, love to be involved in it. Love to win a gold medal. It’s every young man’s dream, huge for golf around the world.
“Golf needs to go the masses. I’m not a fan of golf being an elitist sport. Fingers crossed I get a chance to do it.”
Harrington will be pushing 45 when the Games come around and while he’s slipped to world No 90, he’s still dreaming of gold.
The triple Major winner said: “I think winning a major tournament is the ultimate at the moment but winning the Olympics would be up there.
“Would I swap a fourth major for Olympic gold? I think in time, an Olympic gold would be every bit as big as a fourth major.
“Being an Olympian is very important. Winning the gold will have relevance in time. It will definitely be career defining, and certainly an Olympic gold would be top of my CV.”
Harrington’s interview is the first in a new series on Setanta called The Cut Line in which where recently retired European Tour pro Murphy meets players such Harrington, Shane Lowry and Des Smyth.
It will premiere on Setanta Ireland this Saturday at 10pm.