Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot during a practice round ahead of this week's PGA Championship at Bethpage Black

Bethpage (United States) (AFP) - Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy said on Tuesday he wants to play for Ireland at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, thrilled at the chance to fulfill a boyhood dream.

“I’m excited to be going to the Olympics. I’m excited to play for Ireland,” McIlroy said ahead of the 101st PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.

McIlroy had the choice of competing on the British or Irish teams since Northern Ireland does not field a separate Olympic squad. In 2016, he selected the Irish team but withdrew two months before the Rio Olympics, citing concerns over the Zika virus.

This time, McIlroy plans to golf for Ireland.

“As a young boy it was always my dream to play for Ireland. I was very proud to put on that shirt or that blazer,” McIlroy said.

“It’s the same as like the rugby players, right? There’s players that play for Ulster, but they want to play for Ireland. It’s seen as a whole island sport, just like hockey is, just like most of the sports are.

“So then obviously when you put the Olympics into the equation and then there’s a choice to be made, you really have to start thinking, OK, well, what are your beliefs and your values and – it makes you sort of have to delve a little bit deeper.

“It’s not just a superficial decision. It’s something that you have to really believe in. I’ve thought about that for a long time.

“In the end, it was the fact that when I was a little boy and I got that first call up to the national squad to go on to Citywest and be a part of the youth system and making that team and playing in home internationals, I was so proud to do that.

“So why would it be any different just because it’s a different golf tournament or different arena or a different environment? That was basically what it came down to.”

It doesn’t hurt that Neil Manchip, national coach when McIlroy was an amateur, will lead the Irish golf team in Tokyo.

“I had an unbelievable amateur career, and I don’t mean that in terms of results, but I mean that in the experiences I had and the trips that I had and the friendships that I made and still have to this day,” McIlroy said. “That was all because of playing for Ireland and getting close to some of those guys.

“It’s going to be a great experience, and probably a little bit nostalgic because it’ll bring me back to 15 years ago, whenever I was doing that with the same people. So it’s going to be cool.”

The logistics will be tricky. McIlroy is looking at playing in the British Open, then stopping in Memphis for a WGC event on his way to Tokyo to challenge for Olympic gold.

“So it’s sort of going to be one of those deals where we probably get in on Tuesday, tee it up on a Thursday, and then we’ve got to get ready for the rest of the season,” McIlroy said.

“It’s just one of those things where it’s just in the middle of a really busy stretch.”

- Rory’s ‘best days’ ahead -

Fourth-ranked McIlroy, a four-time major winner, seeks his third Wanamaker Trophy this week in his first major since turning 30 earlier this month.

“I definitely don’t feel 30,” McIlroy said. “I don’t know what age I feel. My body is as good as it has been in a couple of years, which I’m really grateful for. Every week that I tee it up, I feel like I’m gaining more experience that I can put into the next tournament.

“I still believe my best days are ahead of me for sure.”

And McIlroy likes his chances this week.

“I think I have a good chance,” McIlroy said. “I’ve had a pretty good record at the PGA, a couple of wins and a couple other decent finishes. We’re playing at a golf course I like that I’ve had some experience on.”