|Rory McIlroy waits on the 15th green to putt his ball during the final round of the PGA Championship in Carmel, Ind., Sept. 9, 2012. (BRENT SMITH/Reuters)
Rory McIlroy is in a no-win situation and it has nothing to do with golf.
McIlroy, the top-ranked player in the world, is being pressed to decide if he'll compete under the Union Jack or Irish Tricolour at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. One British paper, the Mail on Sunday, quoted McIlroy as saying he has "always felt more British than Irish," leaving the impression he would compete for Great Britain at the Rio Games. Another paper was more direct, proclaiming incorrectly that he would compete for Great Britain.
Not so fast, folks.
McIlroy, a 23-year-old from Northern Ireland who is eligible to compete for either country, posted an open letter Monday on his Twitter account to clarify that he hasn't decided on his "national allegiance" -- and won't for some time -- because he knows it will cause a firestorm of controversy in the U.K.
"I am in an extremely sensitive and difficult position and I conveyed as much in a recent newspaper interview," McIlroy said. "I am a proud product of Irish golf and the Golfing Union of Ireland and am hugely honoured to have come from very rich Irish sporting roots ... I am also a proud Ulsterman who grew up in Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. That is my background and always will be.
"I wish to clarify that I have absolutely not made a decision regarding my participation in the next Olympics. On a personal level, playing in the Olympics would be a huge honour. However, the Games in Rio are still four years away and I certainly won't be making any decisions with regards to participating any time soon."
McIlroy understands the profound effect his decision will have on his supporters, which is why he wants to hold off as long as possible before making it. After all, national allegiance has divided the northeastern corner of the island for the past century and was at the heart of the Troubles that rocked Northern Ireland for 30 years.
McIlroy is too young to remember what Northern Ireland was like during those dark days but he has been touched by the violence. Joe McIlroy, the brother of the golfer's grandfather, was killed by the Ulster Volunteer Force in 1972.
The two-time major champion, who won the BMW Championship on Sunday, has been embraced by sports fans on both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland -- those who consider themselves Irish and others who think of themselves as British -- and has carefully avoided the issue. That could change if he declares his nationality now, something he's clearly hoping to prevent by presenting himself as a man of all people.
"I receive huge support from both Irish and British sports fans alike and it is greatly appreciated," McIlroy said. "Likewise, I feel like I have a great affinity with American sports fans. As an international sportsman, I am very lucky to be supported by people all over the world, many of whom treat me as one of their own, no matter what their nationality, or indeed mine. This is the way sport should be.
"Since turning professional at 18, I have travelled the world playing the game that I love and consider myself a global player."
McIlroy's nationality has become an issue in the wake of the London Olympics because golf will be included for the first time at the Rio Games.