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Letter from Europe

Playing on the PGA Tour is a big deal. But life on tour isn't always easy

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Mike Ehrmann

May 08, 2024

EAST LOTHIAN, Scotland — News flash: Golf at the highest level is difficult. News flash (2): But even difficult golf can be fun. And both were on display during press conferences that formed part of the media day for July’s Genesis Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club.

On the dark side of life on tour was Bob MacIntyre. Still relatively fresh from a European Ryder Cup debut and gaining his PGA Tour card through his stellar play on the DP World Tour in 2023, the Scot has found life in the New World to be so very different and a lot more stressful. In 12 PGA Tour starts this season, the 27-year-old from the remote Highland town of Oban has missed six cuts and recorded only two top-10s, one of those alongside Thomas Detry in the recent Zurich Classic of New Orleans. The big issue seems to have been chipping and putting on grasses he has only rarely seen before.

“If you've got a straightforward chip out here into a strong grain it changes the way you've got to play the shot,” he said. “I changed my technique slightly to try and help myself and give myself a bigger margin for error. But even on basic chips that I would be fancy to chip in, I'm thinking, ‘right, do I get the putter on this, just kind of damage limitation kind of stuff?’ When it goes wrong, it [the ball] only goes a yard in front of you. Then you've got a six-foot putt with the grain going the opposite way from the break; how do you read that?”

Much more upbeat was Tom Kim, whose two appearances in the Scottish Open have so far produced a third-place finish and a tie for sixth. It’s safe to say the 21-year-old South Korean is a fan of seaside golf, even if it is a little bit of a stretch to describe the Tom Doak-designed Renaissance as a traditional “links.”

Still, working from the bottom up, it is hard to imagine a more downbeat 20 minutes or so than those in which MacIntyre detailed how he has struggled with life far from home, both on and off the course in 2024. Even a three-week return to the friends and family comforts offered by his hometown (population 8,500) gave his overall mood only a temporary boost.

“When you're on the European DP World Tour, it's very friendly,” said the Scot, who emerged unbeaten from the three matches he played in his Ryder Cup debut. “Everyone is together. We're all traveling the world. If we're struggling with certain things, we speak to folk around us. Everything is very familiar. You come out here to the PGA Tour, and it's also so unfamiliar. There's less chatting. There's less dinners. There's just less of that big family feel that you get on the European Tour. If you're sitting on your own, guys will come and join you. Out here [MacIntyre is in South Carolina for this week’s Myrtle Beach Classic], because you don't know many folk … you don't know them in that same kind of depth … they don't come to sit with you. So it does become a lonely place.

“It is what it is,” he continued. “You've got to get on with it. But there are a lot of other things. New golf courses. In Europe, I've played the majority of them now. Over here, they are pretty much all new. Then you've got the different grasses. Having not been brought up playing a lot of Bermuda, grainy grass, pitching and putting is just completely different. I can't just jump home and see the family and get that kind of vibe, being chilled out. But again, it's part of the journey, and I've just got to get on with it.”

Lightening the mood more than a bit, Kim was quick to express his enthusiasm for all things Scottish and, in particular, the Renaissance Club.

“Whenever I go there, I always seem to really enjoy the way we play golf,” he said, from Quail Hollow, where this week he is competing in the Wells Fargo Championship. “It's just very, very different. You have to pick one shot. You have to commit to it. That's the biggest thing I've realized at links golf. You just have to commit, and you have to be able to take some bunkers out of play. In the U.S., there's some shots where you're … I think I can push this. I think I can try to take on this bunker. But over there, you just can't. You have to take a club that you cannot go in the bunker because bunkers are definitely red hazards. For some reason every time I go there, I can just picture a lot of good things. I have a lot of good vibes over there. I just seem to enjoy myself.”

Still, for all that his current mental game contrasts almost completely with that of MacIntyre, Kim was understanding of his fellow pro’s present predicament.

“I do think it is harder to adapt from Scotland to the U.S. because in Scotland there's not much grain,” said the three-time PGA Tour winner. “At home you don't have shots where when you hit, your club gets stuck in the ground. And when you're reading putts, there's not much grain at all. Then, when you come to the U.S., there's so many different grasses. You've got bent. You've got ryegrass. You've got Bermuda. You've got zoysia. There's four different type of grasses, even more. When you're adapting to that instead of just one grass, it definitely is harder.

“The lifestyle here on the PGA Tour, is all business,” continued Kim, confirming MacIntyre’s analysis. “When I played on the Asian Tour or DP World Tour, there was a lot of camaraderie. People go out to dinner and stuff like that. But here, you have your own team. You're trying to compete out here. When I first came, I definitely saw a different type of golf. That’s what makes these guys so good because they are all so dedicated and focused to their craft. So I do really think that guys from the DP World Tour might play great there, but it is hard to adapt coming from there to the PGA Tour.”

News flash (3): Big fish in little pond beats little fish in big pond every time.