Standing in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 18th of Foshan Golf Course, six thousand miles from home, Robert MacIntyre is two shots outside the cut.
It’s the penultimate week of the 2018 Challenge Tour season and there’s still a lot of work to be done to sew up his European Tour card for the following year. Missing the cut is something he can ill-afford.
Yet here he is, on the wrong side of it, with a good 270 yards for his second shot.
Out comes the 3-wood.
Stiffs it to 15 feet.
“It’s easily one of the best shots I’ve ever seen,” says his caddie Greg Milne. “Under normal circumstances, it would have been a great shot. But given what was at stake, it was just incredible.”
MacIntyre rolled in the eagle putt and scraped through to the weekend with nothing to spare. He then played his next two rounds in a combined 15-under-par to tie for the lead after 72 holes. Frenchman Victor Perez ultimately denied him the trophy at the first hole of a sudden-death play-off but, in the bigger picture, the Oban man was the real winner.
That week effectively guaranteed him his playing privileges for the European Tour and largely because of one of the gutsiest approaches you can imagine.
“That sums Bob up,” adds Milne. “You see him on TV or whatever and he’s got a very even demeanour, very calm. But he wants it more than anybody. He has this incredible determination and hunger that I’ve not seen in a player before. He didn’t have as easy a start in the game as other guys. Nothing has been handed to him on a silver platter. What he’s got is pure grit.”
Milne pauses for a moment, then adds: “Yeah, he’s gonna be good. Really, really good.”
* * *
BORN IN THE SMALL seaside town of Oban on August 3, 1996, it was almost inevitable that Robert Duncan MacIntyre would become a sportsman. His dad, Dougie, was a top shinty player who helped Oban Camanachd win the 1996 Camanachd Cup, scoring twice in the final against Kingussie. His brother Gordon – Bob’s uncle – scored the winner in a 3-2 victory.
Bob’s grandfather, also Dougie, was an accomplished shinty player, too, and featured on the opening credits for the BBC’s Sportscene programme.
When Bob and his two older sisters Gillian and Nicola were still very young, Dougie and wife Carol moved to a new home that they built right by the 12th tee of Glencruitten Golf Club. Dougie has been the club’s greenkeeper for the last two decades.
“From pretty much the minute he was able to stand, Bob had a golf club in one hand and a shinty stick in the other,” explains Carol. “They’ve always been his two biggest passions.”
Bob started playing shinty for his primary school, Rockfield, and played in the national MacKay Cup Final in 2008 when they lost to Portree. He then went through the youth ranks at Oban Camanachd and turned out on a couple of occasions for their reserve team Lochside Rovers.
Then golf took over.
“Glencruitten had a great junior section when Bob was growing up,” adds Carol. “During the school summer holidays, he and his pals – Stuart Alexander, Ally MacLean and so on – were hardly ever off the golf course. They’d stop in past ours for their lunch, a quick toastie and a drink, and then they’d be off on their way again. That was more or less a daily occurrence.”
The more Bob played, the more his natural talent became apparent. In 2013, he showed it on the national stage for the first time when he became the first player to win the Scottish Youths’ Championship and Scottish Boys’ Strokeplay Championship in the same year. That saw him receive the coveted Adam Hunter Award at the 2014 Scottish Golf Awards just weeks before he won the Sir Henry Cooper Junior Masters, one of the top under-18 events on the Great Britain & Ireland calendar.
Quietly, he was fast becoming one of the country’s brightest young talents. To help support him, Dougie and Carol worked every spare minute they had. At one point, Carol was holding down four jobs at once. Scrub the toilets in the Oban Bay Hotel & Spa? No problem. Anything to bring the money in.
“You’ve got to remember that for us to go travel anywhere, we’ve first got to get to Glasgow and that’s a good three hours by car,” adds Carol. “We were lucky that there were a lot of people willing to help out and drive Bob to tournaments if we weren’t able to get the time off but we would always foot the bill for the petrol or hotels or whatever. Sure, it was tough going at times but, as a parent, that’s just what you do, isn’t it?”
In 2015, he won the Scottish Amateur Championship, lost in the final of the Amateur Championship and, during a brief stint at McNeese State University, won the NCAA season curtain-raiser, the Sam Hall Intercollegiate.
Amidst all the doom and gloom about the ‘state of Scottish golf’, little did the alarmists realise we had a helluva prospect on our hands the whole time.
* * *
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TOWARDS THE END OF 2016, one of MacIntyre’s oldest friends Ally MacLean went to Kingsfield Golf Centre in Linlithgow for a TaylorMade custom fitting with David Burns.
Unbeknownst to Burns, MacIntyre was concerned about the lack of progress he had been making that year. He was determined to take his game to the next level, to pursue his dream of making it as a tour pro. But he was realistic enough to know that he wouldn’t get there without making some big changes.
MacLean returned to Oban and, at his recommendation, MacIntyre gave Burns a call and arranged to go meet him.
“We hit it off pretty much straight away,” recalls Burns. “He told me what his short and long-term goals were and I outlined how I thought I could help him get there.”
The first thing that had to change was MacIntyre’s ball flight. Playing the majority of his competitive golf over links courses, he was hitting it low. Too low.
“He was really struggling with his driver when we first started working together,” recalls Burns. “It was causing him all kinds of problems. I remember he went to the Eisenhower Trophy in Mexico around the time that we started together and he was hitting it all over the place.
“His angles at address were all wrong. He was miles out. That then affected his takeaway, and everything
else after that.
“We had to make goodness knows how many changes and technical adjustments but the good thing was that Bob was receptive to them all. He’s like a sponge for information. He always wants to know more and more. That’s what makes him such a good pupil. If he doesn’t like what I’m telling him, he’ll say, ‘Okay, I know what you’re saying but I don’t think I can do that.’ He’s incredibly respectful. There’s no shouting and bawling, no huffs. He’s a dream to work with.”
Iain Stoddart echoes that sentiment. The managing director of Edinburgh-based Bounce Sports, he has managed MacIntyre since he turned pro following an impressive performance in the 2017 Walker Cup.
“Originally, the plan was for Bob to go out to the Middle East and play in some events as an amateur to prepare for going to Q-School,” he explains. “However, I remember he came to me and he said, ‘What if I was to go there as a pro?’
“I said, ‘Well, if you’re going to do that, would you not be interested in going to the Dunhill?”
Off the back of his Walker Cup appearance, it’s safe to assume that MacIntyre would have had no trouble getting in to the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
With a $5million prize fund, it’s one of the most lucrative events on the European Tour. It was the second tournament Rory McIlroy played as a professional back in 2007 and the €211,000 he earned for finishing in a tie for third assured him of his tour card the following year.
Besides anything else, it would have been a home event for MacInytre on three courses – the Old Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns – that he would have been plenty familiar with.
Stoddart adds: “I put all that to him and he thought long and hard about it but came back and said no. He said he needed to get competitive practice playing on the type of courses that were the norm on the European Tour and so he went out to the Middle East to play a couple of events on the MENA Tour as a pro.
“It would have been the easiest thing in the world for him to take the Dunhill invite and soak up all of the fanfare in front of a home crowd that week but he took a bigger picture view of it all. For a 21-year-old, as he was at the time, to have that kind of maturity was so impressive. But that’s Bob.”
As it transpired, swapping Scotland for the Middle East proved to be a shrewd move. Not only did MacIntyre get to work on ingraining the changes to his swing and ball flight that he and Burns had been working on, he also got his first taste of professional success, winning the Sahara Kuwait Championship.
When he came home, he was ready for his debut season on the Challenge Tour. And what a season it would prove to be. Five top-10s, including two runner-up finishes, helped him to 12th place on the rankings and guaranteed him a European Tour card for 2019.
He got off to a good start, too, making the cut in seven of his first ten events. However, he had finished no better than tied for 15th in those tournaments and, by the time he missed the cut in Morocco at the end of April, he was feeling frustrated. He flew home to Oban and, suddenly, everything changed.
* * *
“THE THING ABOUT BOB is that he’s a home bird,” says mum Carol. “He genuinely loves living in Oban. When he’s here, he’s not ‘Robert MacIntyre, the professional golfer’. He’s just Bob. He plays football on a Monday night, goes to shinty training on a Tuesday. He sees his friends. He plays with his foster brothers. There’s no airs and graces about him. What you see is what you get.”
It’s no coincidence that, as soon as MacIntyre started to play shinty again this year, his form on the golf course improved.
“You’ve got to have a life away from the golf course,” adds Stoddart. “It probably took Bob a little bit of time to strike that balance but look at his results since the shinty season started. Second at the British Masters. Second in Denmark. Top 20 on the Race To Dubai. Card all locked up for next year. Qualifies for The Open. Finishes sixth there.
“It’s funny, people have said to me, ‘Why are you letting Bob play shinty? Is it not really dangerous?’ Well, first of all, I don’t tell Bob what he can and can’t do. That’s up to him. What matters most is that he’s happy. A happy golfer tends to be a successful golfer. How many unhappy players do you see winning? Bob has struck a great balance between work and pleasure, and his performances over the last few months are evidence of that.”
The Open, particularly so.
On his major championship debut, MacIntyre finished in a tie for sixth – the first Scot to finish inside the top-10 on his Open Championship debut since Andrew Kirkaldy in 1879. Most impressive was his closing 68, the third lowest score on a brutal final day.
“Those were the toughest conditions I can remember seeing on the final day at a golf tournament for a very, very long time,” adds caddie Milne. “He just played unbelievably well and, as we saw, it got better and better as the day went on.
“He was away doing media and other stuff for about an hour after his round and so I went into the players’ lounge and met up with our families. It was kind of surreal. Every time we looked at the leaderboard, his name seemed to be climbing.
“I left soon after and I was about half an hour outside Portrush when I pulled over and saw we were sitting in a tie for fifth. It was an incredible week.”
Mum Carol agrees. “It was a surreal but incredible week. Bob’s sister Nicola, foster brother Thomas and I arrived there early in the week and we were walking through security and putting our bags through the scanner when I turned around and there standing next to us was Sergio Garcia. I nudged Nicola and whispered, ‘Look, that’s Sergio.’ She said to me, ‘Never mind that, mum, there’s Tiger.’ Sure enough, Tiger Woods was there as well. Of course, next thing I know, Thomas has said, very matter of factly, ‘Hi Tiger’. Tiger said ‘hi’ back which made his day. It was a different world altogether.
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“My brain was frazzled with it all. You went into the lounge and you could have pretty much anything you wanted. I remember we were sitting at lunch and Rory McIlroy’s parents were at the table next to us. I could barely eat my food. But Bob looked so comfortable in that environment. He was so at ease, not fazed in the slightest. I was even happier to see that it hadn’t brought out anything in his personality that I didn’t like because I’d have been the first to tell him so. He just looked as though this was where he belonged.”
Whilst many might have been surprised to see MacIntyre’s name near the top of the leaderboard at the close of play, coach Burns wasn’t.
“My friends text me every week and say, ‘What do you reckon? Should we put some money on Bob?’. Some weeks, I’ll tell them not to. Others, like the British Masters, I’ll make sure they do. I think my pals must have made about ten grand on him finishing second at the British Masters. As a coach, you just get that feeing about your players, almost like a sixth-sense that you know when they’re going to play well. I got that at Portrush. I told everyone who asked to put a few quid on him.”
MacIntyre took three weeks off after the Open and, as has become customary, returned home to Oban to escape it all.
“He had plenty to keep him busy,” says Carol. “He mucked in with the hoovering, got the messages from the shops, went to see his papa, spent time with his pals.
“It was a life-changing week for him in a lot of ways but it hasn’t changed who he is and I don’t imagine it will. He’s so grounded and that’s as much to do with the community he’s grown up in as anything else. People say it’s the parents who raise their children but I believe that the community raises them, too. Around here, he’s just Bob. Oban is a huge part of his success.”
Caddie Milne agrees. Like MacIntyre, he comes from a small seaside town – Dunmore East in County Waterford – and so he completely understands how important home is to his boss.
“Part of what makes Bob such an exciting prospect is his humility,” he says. “He’s an incredibly down-to-earth guy who has this fire that burns deep inside him. I have no doubt he’s going to get to the very top. It might take him a couple of years but he’ll get there. Absolutely.”
Burns agrees. “It’s hard not to be excited about the future. He ticks absolutely every single box. He’s got the desire and phenomenal amount of talent. He’s by no means the finished article. It’s still very much a work in progress. But he’s only 23. He’s still got another eight or nine years before he’ll be hitting his peak and, if he keeps going the way he is, he’s going to be something very special. Put it this way, I’d be expecting him to play in the Ryder Cup before he’s 30.”
Milne goes even further. “I think he’s definitely got a major in him. He’s that big a talent.”
For mum Carol, the most important thing is that he continues to enjoy what he’s doing. Everything else is just the icing. “What’s happened so far has completely surpassed all of Dougie and I’s hopes and dreams for him,” she says. “As a parent, you just want your children to be happy. You can buy plenty of things for them but you can’t buy that. So to see him doing what he’s doing and, more importantly, to see how happy he is doing it, it’s just brilliant. He has been given an incredible gift and he’s worked so hard to make the most of it. It’s funny to think he’s already made more money in his career than Dougie and I have ever made and he’s only just getting started. Now, it just about letting the golf do the talking.
“Yeah, the future’s pretty bright.”
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