The Sports Xchange

By Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange

Golf notebook: McIlroy to play for Ireland in '16 Olympics

--Rory McIlroy announced that he would play for Ireland, not Great Britain, in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The 25-year-old McIlroy is from Northern Ireland and was eligible to play for either Ireland or Great Britain when golf returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1904 in St. Louis.

"I have been thinking about the decision a lot and remembered all the times I represented Ireland as an amateur," said McIlroy, who was preparing to play in the Irish Open at Fota Island Golf Club in County Cork, where he missed the cut.

"I was always very proud to put on the Irish uniform and play as an amateur and as a boy, and I would be very proud to do it again."

McIlroy played all of his amateur golf under the auspices of the Dublin-based Golfing Union of Ireland, and the two-time major winner opted to stay with Ireland for the Olympics after speculation that he might play for Great Britain.

Citizens of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, can hold both British and Irish citizenship.

McIlroy, who was raised Catholic, grew up in the predominantly Protestant town of Holywood east of Belfast, and he once said he considered himself more British than Irish.

When he said he might play for the British in 2016, it did not go over well with Irish golf fans, and McIlroy suggested that he might skip the Olympics rather than make either side unhappy with him.

Two other major champions from Northern Ireland, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell, have identified with Ireland, and McIlroy has twice teamed with McDowell to represent Ireland in the World Cup of Golf.

"Just because I'm getting paid to play this great game now doesn't mean I should change (teams)," said McIlroy, who won the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional and the 2012 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. "So I'm very happy with my decision. It means I can look forward to the Olympics in a couple of years' time -- you know, if I qualify, obviously, for the team.

"I just thought it was the right thing to do. It was the right time to let everyone know. Now I'm really looking forward to Rio in '16."

McIlroy said he decided to make his announcement after watching the World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil on television.

--Brooks Koepka played much of this season on the European Tour, but by tying for fourth in the U.S. Open at Pinehurst with a 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole, the Florida native earned his PGA Tour card for the 2014-15 season.

The 24-year-old graduate of Florida State, who also earned a spot in the Masters next year, plans to return to Europe to play in the Alstom Open de France and the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open the next two weeks while trying to qualify for the Open Championship next month at Royal Liverpool.

"It was pretty sweet, to say the least," said Kopeka, who did not know that the top four and ties in the U.S. Open qualified for the Masters. "Someone said to me, 'How's it feel to be in the Masters?' And I was like, 'Oh, that's funny.'

"It's awesome, a dream come true. I went there a long time ago and always told my dad that I was going to go back and play, but I would never go back and watch. It's a special place."