Robert MacIntyre
Letter from Europe

Robert MacIntyre's bright future is a product of his Scottish roots

October 14, 2019

In deference to his mother, Carol, the name that has made regular appearances on European Tour leader boards the past few months is “Robert MacIntyre.” But to everyone else, the 23-year-old who already is Scotland’s greatest all-time left-handed golfer—a low bar, admittedly—is “Bob.”

“Bob from Oban,” that is.

Just as the superstar that Arnold Palmer became was forever the working-class boy from Latrobe, Pa., MacIntyre’s soundness of character, inherent good nature and solid upbringing are all inextricably linked with his hometown, a picturesque ferry port with a population of about 8,500 on the western edge of the Scottish Highlands. MacIntyre’s inventive shot-making—most recently witnessed with a driver off the deck played at last week’s Italian Open that had social media buzzing—is to a large extent a product of growing up at the local course, an eccentrically contoured par-62 layout measuring 4,471 yards.

“I love the way Phil Mickelson plays. He puts everything on the line, and that’s how I try to do it,” MacIntyre says. “But my creativity stems from playing at Glencruitten. It is short. It is tight. It is up-and-down mountains. You never have a straightforward shot from the middle of the fairway. You might be in the middle of the fairway, but there is a hill to go ’round. It’s a place where I learned every type of shot: low, high, hooking, fading.”

And humility. Courtesy of a practical joker employed by TaylorMade, the clubhead of MacIntyre’s 52-degree wedge bears the label Millionaire Bobby Mac. But the lad whose rookie season on tour has been dotted with three second-place finishes, a T-4 over the weekend in Rome and a T-6 in the Open Championship has retained the “ordinariness” inherent of his background. His father, Dougie, is the greenskeeper at Glencruitten, and the family home sits a mere 20 paces from the 12th tee. When he first saw what had been etched on the back of his club, MacIntyre’s reaction was typical.

“Hide that thing,” he said to his caddie, Greg Milne. “We’re playing with billionaires.”

Though it’s safe to assume such a lofty financial bracket will remain out of reach, MacIntyre has amassed more than €1.5 million in his first full year on the European Tour. More than three-quarters of that sum came those four top-four finishes and a glorious week at Royal Portrush, where MacIntyre became the first Scot since Andrew Kirkcaldy in 1879 to have a top-10 finish in his Open debut. MacIntyre’s closing 68, climaxed by a 25-foot for birdie on the 72nd green, was the third-lowest score on what turned out to be the greatest day of Shane Lowry’s life.

Stuart Franklin

Finishing T-6 at Portrush in July, MacIntyre was the first Scot to finish in the top 10 in his Open Championship debut since 1879.

Such a high-profile display of excellence was followed by three weeks away from the tour, during which MacIntyre resumed what might be termed “normal service.”

“He had plenty to keep him busy,” Carol says. “He mucked in with the hoovering [vacuum cleaning], got the messages [groceries] from the shops, went to see his papa [grandfather] and spent some time with his pals [the closest of whom is a monumental sculptor]. “The Open was life-changing in many ways, but it hasn’t changed who he is. He’s so grounded, and that’s as much to do with the community he’s grown up in as anything else. Oban is a big part of his success.”

Indeed, MacIntyre’s growing pre-eminence—he is 86th in the World Ranking and seventh on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai—is something his homeland has long yearned for. Since the Ryder Cup juggernaut that was Colin Montgomerie bowed out in 2006, only two Scots, Paul Lawrie and Stephen Gallacher, have represented Europe in the biennial contest with the United States. So, though all of Scotland might not be turning its lonely eyes in MacIntyre’s direction just yet, the nation that gave golf to the world is in dire need of a (male) star to get behind. And at least one learned observer thinks MacIntyre might be that man.

“What I like about Bob is how calm he looks on the course,” says Peter Alliss, longtime BBC commentator and former Ryder Cup player. “I like watching him play. He smiles a bit—not too much, but just enough. He has a beautifully rhythmic swing and doesn’t seem to get agitated. I hope that doesn’t change. He needs to keep doing things his way.”

That has always been a feature of MacIntyre’s likable personality. “I’m quite easygoing. I never worry about what others do or say” in the game that replaced shinty as the most important sport in his young life.

Shinty?

“Shinty is a cross between field hockey and legalized violence,” Macintyre says with a smile. “Make that a mix of hockey and the Irish sport of hurling. It’s a stick-and-ball game, played mainly on the ground. You can take full swings. And use both sides of the stick, without having to spin it ’round. So you can hit the ball left-handed and right-handed. It’s a Highland sport, played first by the clans. So it’s in my blood. My father and uncle were both really good players. My papa played until he was into his 50s. It’s a rough game—or can be. I’ve never been hurt playing, though. I know where to go and where not to go.”

That much has long been obvious. At first unsure about exactly what to do in the two years between leaving high school and turning pro, MacIntyre accepted a full scholarship at McNeese State University in Louisiana. It was the making of him. During his 18-month stay starting in the fall of 2014, the young Scot won a tournament, lost a couple of playoffs, competed alongside the likes of Jon Rahm and Ollie Schniederjans, elevated himself into the world’s top-50 amateurs and, perhaps just as important, learned how to cook and do laundry. It was, he says, “a brilliant experience.”

‘He’s so grounded, and that’s as much to do with the community he’s grown up in as anything else. Oban is a big part of his success.’ —Carol MacIntrye, Robert’s mom

The same might be said for the 2017 Walker Cup matches at Los Angeles Country Club. Great Britain & Ireland fell to a heavy defeat, but MacIntyre’s performance was notable. Drawn against Cameron Champ twice in singles, MacIntyre emerged unbeaten, his 6-and-4 victory on Day 1 preceding their halved match 24 hours later.

On his return to Oban, the former Scottish Boys stroke-play champion, Scottish Youths champion and Scottish Amateur champion at first was determined to stay in the unpaid ranks. Intending to compete at the European Tour Qualifying School as an amateur, MacIntyre turned down the chance to play in the Dunhill Links Championship and headed to the Middle East and two events on the MENA Tour. Just before he left, though, a change of heart saw him make the trip as a professional.

His start was less than auspicious.

“I shot 79 in my first round as a professional,” he says with a big smile. “That night I texted my manager, Ian Stoddart: ‘We’ve all got to start somewhere.’ It is still in his phone. The next day, I shot two or three under, then broke the course record in the third round. I ended up missing a playoff by a shot. But to go from 79 and thinking I could only get better, to a decent score, to blitzing it, gave me huge confidence. And I won the next week.”

Still, even with that boost in his bag, MacIntyre struggled to get to the third and final stage of Q school, making it “on the number” at Stage 2.

“My dad was caddieing, and I couldn’t keep my driver on the planet,” MacIntyre says. “I was slicing everything. But a few hours before the first round, I decided just to play with my big slice. It was blowing a gale, and some of the slices I was hitting were 60 to 70 yards. I was hitting the ball 340, but it was only going 280. It was the only way I could get the ball in play.”

Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

MacIntyre's rookie season has already included three runner-ups and two other top-six finishes.

That pragmatism helped earn MacIntyre a spot on the Challenge Tour in 2018, where he performed well enough (12th on the money list) to claim a European Tour card for a 2019 season that has brought so many headlines. There have been numerous highlights, such as playing alongside Ernie Els, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, but one sticks out.

“My biggest thrill this year was the 5-wood second shot I hit to the 17th green in the last round of the British Masters,” MacIntyre says. “When the ball landed on the green, I heard an almighty roar and knew it was close. I had a lot of my family there that week, and they made a lot of noise, but it wasn’t just them. I was playing with Tommy Fleetwood in his hometown, and it was like the support switched from him to me in that moment. Until then it had been ‘Tommy, Tommy, Tommy.’ But on the way to the 18th tee they were all shouting, ‘Come on Bobby Mac.’ ”

Speaking of family, MacIntyre’s clear sense of perspective has much to do with the fact that his mother and father are long-time foster parents. The current incumbents are 10-year-old Tom and Dan (The Man), who is 6.

“I have learned a lot about life through my parent’s fostering,” says MacIntyre, who also has two older sisters. “The kids generally come from a variety of backgrounds. Some have been battered. Some are just neglected. Some have been abused. Dan and Tom have been with us 2½ years. They are the lucky ones. They have been helped. But there are so many others.

“I play golf for the sheer enjoyment. I love it. I’m good at it. But it isn’t life or death. It’s a job, but it will never be everything. At the Dunhill Links last month, I was raging at my poor finish. But once I was in the car heading home, I was fine. My dad was driving. And Dan was there. He didn’t care what I shot. Ten minutes into the journey, we were singing songs.”

All of which might lead the uninitiated to imagine MacIntyre is some sort of soft touch. Not a bit of it, as he proved to the world during the Open at Portrush. Playing alongside PGA Tour regular Kyle Stanley, MacIntyre took exception to the American’s failure to shout “fore” after wayward shots. Twice Stanley’s ball struck spectators, one the mother of MacIntyre's caddie.

“I felt like I did everything right,” says the Scot, who received some blowback for speaking out. “I said something to Kyle only when the time was right. I felt like I did what I did the way I was brought up to do things. I spoke to him personally. He was right on the cutline. And I was aware of that. So I didn’t say anything on the course. I left it until we got into the scorer’s hut. I asked him nicely. But he didn’t like it.”

Other than not converting one of his chances to win a tournament this year, the dispute with Stanley is perhaps the only discordant note in MacIntyre’s 2019. As ever, he has things in proportion, his first thoughts focused on those closest to him.

“People see the money I’m making,” he says. “I’ve been asked why I’m not buying things. But I was brought up to respect money. We’ve never had a lot. But I’m not tight. When I travel, I like to do things right. Good flights. Good hotel. Good food. That’s an investment in myself. But I’m not going to blow a few hundred quid on a night out just because I can. That’s not me. I’d rather spend my cash on something for the family.”

Besides, money isn’t everything. There is always Oban to look forward to.

“The view as you drive into town stays with me wherever I go,” he says. “Going down the hill, you look right into the water and across to the islands. Then I know I’m home.”

Top photo: Matthew Harris/TGPL


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