• Nicklaus backs Rory over 'grow the game' comments'
• "When I was playing, I wasn't into growing it either"
• Also backs down over criticism of Olympic absentees
Jack Nicklaus has defended Rory McIlroy over comments he made during the Open Championship about not feeling a responsibility to ‘grow the game’.
Asked at Royal Troon whether he felt that he had ‘let the game down’ by withdrawing from the Olympics, the four-time major winner said that it hadn’t been a difficult decision for him.
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“I didn't get into golf to try and grow the game,” said McIlroy. “I got into golf to win championships and win major championships, and all of a sudden you get to this point and there is a responsibility on you to grow the game, and I get that. But at the same time that's not the reason that I got into golf. I got into golf to win. I didn't get into golf to get other people into the game.”
Those comments prompted some criticism of the Northern Irishman, particularly on social media.
However, addressing the media ahead of this week’s US Senior Open, 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus said he understood where McIlroy was coming from.
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“When I was playing the game, I wasn't into growing it either,” said Nicklaus. “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.
“I think when Rory said he was not into growing the game, he was into playing the game. 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 they are into playing.”
Nicklaus also revealed that he has softened his stance on the decision by many of the game’s top players to skip golf’s return to the Olympic Games, which gets underway in Rio today.
“I was a little critical of the guys to start with,” he 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.
"I think a gold medal would be something I would really treasure" - Jack Nicklaus
“So I can understand where they are, and I think I was probably wrong on that. I think that the guys today and gals that are playing, I think they'll have a great event. They'll have great fun. One of them is going to walk off with a gold medal which they'll treasure the rest of their lives.
“Would I have loved to have been an Olympian? Would I have loved to play golf in the Olympics? Yes, I would have loved to do that. Even though the pinnacle of your sport may not be that, I think a gold medal would be something I would really treasure.”
"I look at the Olympics as a way to grow the game, particularly in areas where the game is not mature" - Jack Nicklaus
Nicklaus added: “I look at the Olympics as a way to grow the game, particularly in areas where the game is not mature, areas such as Brazil, such as Russia, such as China, such as India, places where the game has barely started.
“It would be a shame to lose it because I think it has the opportunity to grow the sports in those countries, which to me only enhances what happens with the game of golf.”
Jack Nicklaus on Rory - your thoughts
Do you agree with Jack Nicklaus that the criticism of Rory McIlroy over his 'grow the game' comments were unfair? Or do you have a different opinion? Leave your thoughts in our 'Comments' section below.