Rory McIlroy ready to tee off for Olympic prize he’s never dreamed of

The golf tournament at Kasumigaseki Country Club begins on Thursday

James Toney
Tokyo
Wednesday 28 July 2021 13:45
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Tokyo 2020 round-up

Rory McIlroy would definitely win a gold medal for honesty but would probably come bottom of the leaderboard in a poll of favourite Olympians by Tokyo organisers.

McIlroy prepares to start his Olympic golf campaign at Kasumigaseki Country Club admitting he still remains torn about whether he should even be here.

To be fair to the world number 13, he is only being consistent, he’s always questioned golf’s place at the Games and to suddenly become its biggest cheerleader on arrival would not have been true to form.

It’s not just that age old argument about whether it’s the pinnacle of his sport, the question of the Olympics forced McIlroy to confront a choice he had no care to make. Was he British or Irish?

Five years ago he didn’t need to decide, pulling out of the Rio Games because of the concerns over the Zika virus.

This time around, given he’d played around the world throughout the pandemic, there was no excuse and so the most reluctant of Olympians will tee-up in green alongside Open champion Collin Morikawa and Korea’s Sunjae Im on Thursday.

He is arguably Ireland’s best gold medal hope - just don’t tell him.

“I don’t know what it would mean, I never dreamed of winning the Olympics,” he said, with the opening live on Eurosport and discovery+.

“I dreamed of Claret Jugs, green jackets and the Ryder Cup. I guess you never know what a gold medal would mean until you’ve actually got one.

“It’s just hard one to put into words, it wasn’t an option for you growing up and dreaming about it. I could articulate it a little better if I was in possession of one.

“It’s hard without spectators and I’d love to be going out tonight to watch a few different events. I really feel for Hideki Matsuyama, when he won the Masters the first thing I thought of was how good will the atmosphere be for him at the Olympics.”

Teammate Shane Lowry has no such issues about national identity, his Open win when the Claret Jug returned to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years sparking scenes of nationwide celebration.

“I understand what Rory is saying and I respect that,” he said. “I’m a very proud and everyone at home knows I love my country, and I’d love nothing more than to come home with a medal.

“I stand there and say it would mean more to me than the Open I would probably be lying. I don’t want to stand there and say it doesn’t mean as much to me either.”

McIlroy and Lowry are agreed that the Tom Fazio designed course will represent a great test, potted with bunkers and large trees, it’s certainly easy on the eye but will punish those who stray too far from the fairway.

“From the moment I put the British shirt on in my garage at home to getting on a flight, I’ve been so excited,” said Tommy Fleetwood, who is a late call-up to Team GB after Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Fitzpatrick and Lee Westwood all withdrew themselves from consideration.

Ryder Cup teammates Paul Casey (left) and Tommy Fleetwood (second right) will represent Team GB in Tokyo

“The one thing I knew was I wanted to stay in the Olympic Village, with all other British athletes from all the other teams.

“Being surrounded by these guys, seeing how much they’ve put into being here, that’s inspirational.

“For me the Olympics is sitting on a couch watching a sport I have no idea about but being really nervous. To think I’m part of that tradition now is pretty humbling.”

Morikawa’s win at Royal St George’s means he starts favourite though team-mates Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Reed won’t be too far behind.

Matsuyama tested positive for Covid-19 and missed The Open and admits he’s coming in less prepared than he would like, while his results since Augusta underline that trend for a slump post first major win.

“I love this course, I one here 11 years ago to qualify for my first Masters,” he said. “With the positive test I was unable to practice for a couple of weeks and that’s not been ideal.

“I walked and played the course and felt fine but we’ll see how I feel after four rounds. I’m going to try and overcome any physical deficit with the mental side.”

Stream every unmissable moment of Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 live on discovery+, The Streaming Home of the Olympics

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