Jack Nicklaus defends Rory McIlroy, says he "wasn't into growing" the game either

August 11, 2016

Rory McIlroy certainly wasn't the only big-name golfer to pass on playing in the Olympics, but his comments regarding his decision drew the most attention. At his press conference ahead of the British Open, McIlroy was clear about his motivation for playing golf.

"I didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game," McIlroy said. "I got into golf to win championships and win major championships . . . I didn’t get into golf to get other people into the game."

Many people were upset with McIlroy's candid response, but Jack Nicklaus understands where the young star is coming from. Why? Because he felt the same way during his playing career.

"But I think when Rory said he was not into growing the game, he was into playing the game," Nicklaus said ahead of this week's U.S. Senior Open. "Well, I look back at it. I mean, I'm past playing the game. My game is gone. My focus on the game of golf now is to grow the game. So, yeah, they are into playing. When I was playing the game, I wasn't into growing it either. Did I play a lot of places? Sure. And by playing a lot of places, that helped to grow the game. But I was there to win, not grow."

Nicklaus, who pushed hard for golf's return to this year's Olympics after a 112-year absence, was initially tough on those deciding not to go to Rio. However, he's softened his stance.

"I was a little critical of the guys to start with," the 18-time major champ said. "I thought it might have been selfish of them not to go. Then I started looking at that, and it is not the pinnacle of their sport. It's a pretty awkward time of year because they just got their Major championships. And, of course, then they have also the Zika problem."

Despite Zika and all the other reasons that kept Olympic golf from having a stellar field in this year's men's competition, Nicklaus is hopeful that the event remains a part of the Summer Games going forward.

"I hope that they look favorably upon the game of golf next year when they vote again so it goes beyond 2020 and a lot of guys and gals will have the opportunity to try for a gold medal," he said.