Robert MacIntyre is poised to be golf’s next superstar

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Published: January 12, 2020 12:16:41 AM

With 270 yards to go, Bob, as he’s better known on tour, pulls out a fairway metal, and smacks the ball to 15 feet before calmly drilling in the eagle putt.

Twenty one-year-old Robert MacIntyre is the first Scot since Andrew Kirkcaldy in 1879 to have a top-10 finish in his Open Championship debutTwenty one-year-old Robert MacIntyre is the first Scot since Andrew Kirkcaldy in 1879 to have a top-10 finish in his Open Championship debut

Circa 2018. It’s Thursday afternoon and the second round of the penultimate event of the second-tier European Challenge Tour is underway. Twenty one-year-old Robert MacIntyre is on the verge of missing the cut; his drive has found the middle of the fairway at the 18th hole of the Foshan Golf Club; but he’s still two shots shy of the score needed to play the weekend. Missing the cut virtually ends the youngster’s chances of getting his European Tour card for the coming season. In short, as crunch a situation as anyone with imagination could contrive. With 270 yards to go, Bob, as he’s better known on tour, pulls out a fairway metal, and smacks the ball to 15 feet before calmly drilling in the eagle putt. His caddie, Greg Milne isn’t the only one left gaping. “It’s easily one of the best shots I’ve ever seen. Under normal circumstances, it would have been a great shot. But given what was at stake, it was just incredible,” Milne recounts.

After scraping through to the weekend in such dramatic fashion MacIntyre makes the most of his heroics playing the last two rounds in 15-under-par to make it to a play-off for the title. Frenchman Victor Perez outdoes him on the first hole of sudden death but MacIntyre has little to complain about—the finish sews up the Scot’s card for the European Tour for 2019.

Everyone loves a working-class hero. And Bob McIntyre, who, out of deference for his mother, prefers to have his full first name—Robert—on leaderboards, is as grounded as they come. The European rookie of the year in 2019 is one of only 8,500 residents of a tiny town called Oban that lies on the western edge of the Scottish Highlands and grew up playing at Glencruitten, a quirky par-62 4,471-yard layout where his father works as a greenskeeper.

MacIntyre is a ‘lefty’ in more ways than merely being a southpaw: he idolises the man who owns that ubiquitous sobriquet—Phil Mickelson. “I love the way Mickelson plays. He puts everything on the line, and that’s how I try to do it,” MacIntyre says, while attributing his shot-making skills to the course he grew up playing at. “…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,” he says.

That creativity has already given MacIntyre the kind of reputation that does justice to the young man’s inadvertent comparisons with Mickelson. At the 2019 Italian Open, MacIntyre ignored Milne’s advice to play safe, and proceeded to smash an unbelievable driver off the deck for his second on a 623-yard Par-5 that ended up within three feet of the pin. MacIntyre finished tied fourth that week.

The finish exemplified the Scot’s meteoric rise in golf from the time he turned pro in 2017. He started 2019 ranked 247th in the world; buoyed by some terrific performances on the Continental circuit that included, notably, a tied-sixth place a the Open Championship at Portrush, he finished the year at an all-time career-high ranking of 64. MacIntyre became the first Scot since Andrew Kirkcaldy in 1879 to have a top-10 finish in his Open debut. He closed with a four-under 68—the third lowest score of the day—and punctuated his performance by curling in a 25-foot putt for birdie. But what’s endeared the young lad to fans isn’t just his spectacular ball striking and relaxed on-course demeanour: MacIntyre has shown an unflinching steadfastness to old-school values that appear unaffected by his success. At Portrush, MacIntyre took umbrage to playing partner Kyle Stanley’s caddy not yelling ‘fore’ when Stanley hit it off line. Stanley’s wayward drives hit two spectators that day, including Milne’s mother. “I felt like I did everything right,” he says about the blowback he received. “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.”

In spite of winning over €1.5 million in his first full year on the European Tour, MacIntyre is known to be prudent with expenses. “I have learned a lot about life through my parent’s fostering,” he says. MacIntyre’s parents continue to take in children who need help. “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. 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.” A prankster at TaylorMade inscribed MacIntyre’s wedge with the label, ‘Millionnaire Bobby Mac.’ When he first saw the etching he asked Milne to put it away. “Hide that thing…we’re playing with billionaires.”

Humility is not the same as self-disparagement, and this self-assured young lad doesn’t seem to have any desire to ape the folks on top of the hill. And that bodes very well indeed: watch out for Bob McIntyre on European Tour’s fairways in 2020. Just call him Robert if his mum is around.

A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes on the game

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