Justin Rose claims Olympics are important to top golfing stars

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy during the practice day at Royal Troon
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy during the practice day at Royal Troon

Justin Rose has led the counter arguments to Rory McIlroy’s suggestion that Olympic golf does not matter to elite players.

McIlroy, who has opted not to play in Rio this summer, has said he may not even watch the upcoming Olympic golf tournament and instead view “stuff that matters” at the Games.

The Northern Irishman has also said he does not feel a responsibility to help grow golf’s international profile, which was one of the prime motivating factors in the sport’s push for Olympic inclusion.

Rose, who will compete for Great Britain, does not share that point of view.

Speaking at a press conference to formally confirm his participation, the 2013 US Open champion said: “Do I feel like it’s nice to give back? Yes. I’ve received a lot from the game of golf.

“I’ve received a lot of help from many different organisations within the game, and it doesn’t take much to give back in certain ways, and I always try to do my fair share.

“I think there are times in your career where you know you need to be single-minded and maybe there are times of your career where it’s time to give back.”

The return of golf to the Olympics for the first time since 1904 has proved highly controversial, with a number of elite players - including the top four in the world rankings - withdrawing.

Concern over the Zika virus has been chief among the reasons for players’ absences, but other factors such as the intensity of golf’s calendar and family matters have also arisen.

Rose said: “It’s obviously disappointing, of course it is. There’s no point lying about that.

“I totally respect and understand their perspective and their decision, and it obviously comes down to personal reasons, and you have to respect that.

“But I’ve been fairly unwavering in my commitment to it. I think if I was to fast-forward 10 years, I’d like my career to read, ‘Justin Rose, multiple major champion and Olympic gold medallist’.”

McIlroy’s comments at Royal Troon in the build-up to this week’s Open Championship have hinted at apathy among top players towards Olympic golf.

The world number four told BBC Radio Five Live: “I think golf in the Olympics is great for golf, it’s great to grow the game, there is no question about that.

“I think you’ve seen, with the amount of top professionals that have decided not to go this time, where it stands in our minds and maybe it would have been best served with amateurs going to play.

“I think the thing for us as well, we weren’t as a collective group of professionals approached or asked if it’s what we wanted.

“Whether it’s the best idea to have the top professionals there, whether it should be amateurs where it’s the pinnacle of the amateur game, like boxing is, then you move onto the professional level, I don’t know.

“I don’t regret my decision, I will stand by it. It doesn’t mean it won’t be a great Games, people that go to Rio and have been training for four years to try to win an Olympic gold will give it their all, and good luck to them because it’s a huge deal in their lives and careers. It just doesn’t feel quite the same to me.”

Rose, who will join Masters champion Danny Willett, Charley Hull and Catriona Matthew in Team GB, hopes McIlroy may not have meant the “stuff that matters” comment.

The 35-year-old said: “Hopefully it’s a slip of the tongue - one of those moments. I’m not personally taking too much on board by that comment.”

Jamie Spence, Team GB’s golf leader, said: “Jack Nicklaus is my hero and he said he’d walk to Rio to play in the Olympics, and I feel the same way.”

There was criticism of McIlroy’s remarks from Britain’s former squash world champion Laura Massaro, who has campaigned for her sport to be included in the Olympics.

Massaro told BBC Radio 5 Live: “It does seem a little unfair that a lot of sports out there would absolutely love their place in the Olympic Games, would see it as a pinnacle and would do everything they can to get an Olympic medal.

“I think his comments are unacceptable. It’s a lack of appreciation for how the Olympics can just transcend an individual sport.

“It almost seems a shame you can’t give that opportunity to athletes who would really, really want it. I would hope the IOC would definitely reconsider and look at some other options going forward.”