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The Phenomenon that is Rory McIlroy

Monday, 13 August 2012
The Phenomenon that is Rory McIlroy
So. Rory McIlroy, MBE, bursts back onto the scene after winning the 2012 PGA Championship by a record eight strokes. Well, was he ever really off the scene? A recent dip in form means anyone who bet on him winning the PGA Championship picked up some nice winnings on the Monday after the competition. The 23 year old is the world number one and is the youngest multiple major champion since Seve Ballesteros won the Masters in 1980.
The media outlets on this side of the Atlantic understandably went into overdrive after his win. UK tv station Sky Sports reported him being one of the few British golfers to win 2 majors. RTE, an Irish tv station, reported him being one of only 5 Irish golfers to win a major. Now, if you are not from Europe, you might be wondering how one referred to him as an Irish golfer, and the other as a British golfer. Well, he is Northern Irish. So, he’s Irish and he’s British. Or he can be one or the other. Still confused? Well, if you know even a small amount of history about Northern Ireland, you will know the whole British/Irish nationality debate. Not to go down a political path, it can get a little confusing once it comes to sport. In 2007, he carried the banner of Ireland at the European Amateur Team Championships and won the Walker Cup for a combined Great Britain and Ireland side. He could represent Ireland or the UK in the Olympics in Rio for example. Sky Sports congratulating a British winner of the PGA Championship wasn’t incorrect, neither was RTE congratulating an Irish winner.
The Golfing Union of Ireland (GUI) is the governing body for amateur golf in Ireland. It is an all Ireland union, so takes in clubs in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland. So, like the rugby team or cricket team, Rory would be considered an Irish golfer the same was as Andrew Trimble would be considered an Irish rugby player. Holywood, County Down, is technically part of the UK, so depending on what passport is in your pocket, you could be Irish or British. Royal Portrush in County Antrim, hosted the Irish Open in 2012, and hosted the Senior British Open in 2004. So, if you think about it, the Irish Open was held in the UK in 2012, but was still held in Ireland if you think about even more. Still confused?
Again, not going down the road of politics, any knowledge of Northern Irish history will tell you that flags are also a contentious issue. You may have seen the flag beside Rory’s name on tv last weekend. It’s not the English flag. It’s not the Union Jack, and it’s not the tricolour. It’s the Northern Irish flag. You will have seen it beside Darren Clarke’s name and Graeme McDowell’s name too, both from Northern Ireland. In recent memory, you will have seen McDowell and McIlroy and Clarke posing with the Northern Irish flag. You might be wondering why it isn’t a Union Jack or a tricolour? You would see Padraig Harrington posing with a tricolour. He’s an Irish golfer, and so is McIlroy isn’t he? Well, as mentioned, it’s a complicated issue, and the trio mentioned above always steer clear of politics and stick to playing golf. It seems to be more of a fascination for others than it is for the golfers themselves. It’s like many want them to pledge their allegiance to one side or the other. Maybe it doesn’t mean much to someone in the US or in New Zealand, but it always crops up in Ireland and the UK when one of them does well in a tournament.
Sporting identity in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is a book in itself. Symbolism in Northern Ireland is another area which still can be quite controversial. So, something that might seem trivial to an American, such as what flag they will hold aloft if they win a tournament, can be an altogether different matter over these parts, and in Northern Ireland in particular. Maybe, for everyone else, Rory is Irish?
The bigger and better Rory McIlroy gets, the more the media will probe these issues with him. He is face with a dilemma now of who to represent in the Olympics in Rio in 2016. He could represent Ireland or the UK. The choice is his. Whatever he chooses, people will be happy on one side and giving out on the other. As Rory said himself “Whatever I say is going to upset someone. It’s hard. I’m Northern Irish. If people want to take me for British they can, and if they want to take me for Irish they can.” Everyone else might say “Who cares?!”

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