30 Jul 2021 | Professional golf |

What would a Rory medal mean for Olympic golf?

by PGA of Australia

Rory McIlroy during the second round of Tokyo 2020.

Spend a scant amount of time scouring social media through the second round of the Olympic men’s golf competition and two schools of thought emerge.

The first is that with so many of the best players in the world notable by their absence that winning an Olympic gold medal is akin to taking out the Barbasol Championship in the same week of The Open. (No disrespect Seamus Power.)

The other is a more broad-minded sense of discovery as names such as Carlos Ortiz (2nd, 10-under), Mito Pereira (T3, 8-under) and Jazz Janewattananond (T7, 7-under) send even seasoned scribes searching for either a phonetic guide or references to how they arrived at Kasumigaseki Country Club from Mexico, Chile and Thailand respectively in the first place.

So how will golf at the Olympics be received if Ireland’s chief golf ambassador Rory McIlroy is our gold medalist come Sunday?

Attracting attention on day one for his revelation that his head is too small for any caps not custom-made by Nike, McIlroy was one of the big movers on Friday courtesy of a round of 5-under 66.

While world No.5 Xander Schauffele and a cast of unheralded players continue to hold strong at the top of the leaderboard, five birdies and an eagle saw McIlroy climb into a share of seventh and give those ahead of him cause to consider a McIlroy charge.

Like our own Adam Scott, McIlroy has been ambivalent about Olympic golf since its return in 2016 and arrived at Tokyo with the demeanour of a man who would prefer to be elsewhere but knew playing was the right thing to do.

“I missed it last time and for golf to be an Olympic sport you need your best players there. I want to represent the game of golf more than anything else,” said McIlroy at the conclusion of The Open at Royal St George’s with all the enthusiasm of a dad contemplating a night at a primary school recital.

His comments regarding the shock withdrawal of US gymnast Simone Biles due to mental health concerns solidified his place as golf’s voice of reason and with two strong rounds over this weekend will become a talking point of his own.

The last of his four major championships came almost seven years ago; his last top-five finish in golf’s four showpiece events coming with a runner-up finish at the 2018 Open.

His win at the Wells Fargo Championship in May broke an 18-month winless drought but questions remain about the 32-year-old’s prospects of multiple major wins as his career enters its latter phase.

So how would an Olympic gold medal be received?

Vindication that golf’s leading lights place the same importance on a gold medal as the greatest athletes on the planet? Or proof that a sub-standard field of just 60 players drawn from 35 countries was easy pickings for one of the greatest talents the game has seen?

McIlroy himself has very much gotten high on Olympic spirit since arriving in Tokyo and is already contemplating the full Olympic experience in Paris in three years’ time.

“That’s the thing that maybe not being in the Olympics last time I didn’t understand,” McIlroy said. “When your sport is in the Olympics and you’re all a part of something that’s a bit bigger than yourself, your sport. That’s a great thing.”

If he arrives at Le Golf National in 2024 as defending Olympic champion it may prove to be a transformative moment for the sport.

And for McIlroy.

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