Dismissive McIlroy illustrates golf's Olympic apathy

There was an audible gasp and barely stifled laughter in Royal Troon's interview room as Rory McIlroy dealt a damning blow to golf's inclusion at the Olympics.

The contrast between his approach and that of Jordan Spieth, who had sat in the same seat an hour before to discuss the same topic, was marked.

While the American trod lightly after confirming his withdrawal from Rio 2016, offering glowing praise of the Games, McIlroy - who made the call in June for ostensibly the same health-based reasons amid fears over the Zika virus - cast aside all thoughts of diplomacy in a remarkable retort.

It may have been the way the question was phrased, with an irritated McIlroy shuffling in his chair as it was put to him that he might feel as though he had "let down the game" by pulling out.

He addressed the question like he might his opening tee shot at this week's Open Championship - with purpose and more than a hint of aggression, but enough control to land it just how he wanted.

No, he did not feel he had let the game down. The very thought seemed absurd to him. For McIlroy, golf is the pursuit of personal glory. 

"I didn't get into golf to try and grow the game," he scowled. "I got into golf to win championships and win major championships."

It was a moment of candour that is too infrequent in media conferences, where polished displays of self-conscious public speaking afford little insight.

The best was yet to come - a withering put-down that made it abundantly clear Zika was not the primary cause for his withdrawal, rather sheer apathy toward the concept of golf's laboured return to world sport's collective big stage.

"I'll probably watch the Olympics, but I'm not sure golf will be one of the events I watch," he said, adding when asked what he will take in: "Probably the events like track and field, swimming, diving, the stuff that matters."

Golf, you see, does not matter. Not as an Olympic sport, not to McIlroy, anyway.

Such disarming honesty is in many ways admirable even if just for its rarity in sport, but it is far removed from the way he announced the news in first place.

Last month, the four-time major winner said the decision had come "after much thought and deliberation". Maybe it was the case. But the deliberations must have continued in his mind to bring him to the point of being so dismissive towards his chosen sport's inclusion at the Games.

It seems doubtful Spieth will make the same journey and declare as much publicly. The 22-year-old said skipping Rio was "probably the hardest decision of my life" and did so with believable sincerity. But he was throwing his voice into a prevailing wind of public opinion that insists golfers are making excuses to duck out of the Brazilian showpiece. 

The cynics might suggest McIlroy was merely expressing what the likes of Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen - all of whom have withdrawn - might really want to say, but have thought better of for fear of attracting the negative headlines that follow such an outburst.

McIlroy's truth is now out there, though. There can be no backtracking on this one. Spieth declared that Tokyo 2020 would be a "significant goal" for him. McIlroy might just get a postcard: 'Wish you were here. It's not all that bad, actually!'.

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