Another January. Another season. The journey from Oban to Glasgow airport is getting all the more familiar, but no less exhilarating. Thursday in Abu Dhabi will be hotel lobbies, constant snap of cameras and a constant weaving through crowds. It will be thundering roars and a course that is carpet laid and his cathedral of dreams.
The journey, though. Always a starting point for every player. Always an A to the final B. Stand in Glencruitten Golf Club and, although you can see houses in the distance from some holes, the course is quiet and surrounded by some impressive greenery. This is A.
Ask Bob MacIntyre where he comes from in relation to here and the family home is right next to the 12th green. Less than a mile from the town centre. Two hours from Glasgow. Three hours to Edinburgh. It might be a small seaside town but its home and its where he is happiest.
MacIntyre embodies the quiet resilience of Oban. He stood out as a teenager, through shinty, tennis and football, and it went from there. The sports mad town of just over 8,500 people has had many greats down through the years and he has certainly cemented his status as one of them on the back of a stellar first season on the European Tour.
In his maiden campaign, the 23-year-old notched second at the British Masters, Made in Denmark Open and European Open, as well as a range of top-10s, including sharing sixth at the Open Championship in Portrush.
But, for a man whose stunning year was recognised with the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award, it nearly finished before it began. After missing the cut at the Moroccan Open in April, MacIntyre flew back home to Oban disappointed and frustrated with his performance in Dar Es Salaam. Not too long after, he called his manager and asked to pull him out of China Open the following week. He wanted a break.
From the outside, a missed cut or a poor performance is just a small blip that pros have to deal with. Two poor rounds. Something that can easily happen when you are playing 20 plus tournaments a year. It was different for MacIntyre though. Life couldn’t just be golf, golf, golf all the time. He needed something else.
“I was losing my mind with golf. I missed the cut in Morocco and I was meant to go to China. I phoned my manager and said ‘pull me out of China. I’m not enjoying golf. I don’t want to be on the golf course’. I sat down with my mum and dad and I said ‘I didn’t want to play golf anymore’. Straight and simple. I needed something else in my life. My dad just smiled at me and I said ‘I’m going to go to shinty training again’,” he told Sport360.
It was back to the shinty field at Oban Celtics that Monday. Back to the boys and back to a bit of fun. His father Dougie was a handy player in his day earning seven caps for Scotland. The same for Bob’s uncle Gordon and his grandfather Dougie. All accomplished players.
“I went to shinty training on Monday and Thursday, and played the game on Saturday. It was probably one of the most enjoyable days of my life that Saturday – driving back with the boys on the bus, tunes going, everyone singing along, being one of the boys again,” he said.
For any sports star, it’s important to have different interests outside of your primary career. Things to tap in to so your focus isn’t solely on the same thing all the time.
That Saturday playing shinty with the boys proved to be the turning point of his season. The following week, a rejuvenated MacIntyre rocked up to Southport for the British Masters, and posted four sizzling rounds to finish tied for second. The bite was back.
In the 17 events after the British Masters, MacIntyre recorded two runners-up finishes and four additional top-10s. Backed by strong, consistent results, his world ranking rose from 191 in the world down to 64th after sealing a share of 14th at the DP World Tour Championship in November. Serious progress.
“That’s why I feel like I was so consistent in the middle to late part of the season. I was going golfing because I enjoyed it. I wasn’t going golfing because it felt like work. I’m doing this because I love it. Everyone has to have something outside of competing outside of the top level,” said the TaylorMade ambassador.
The pair of runner-up finishes at the British Masters and the Made in Denmark tournament helped clinch his place at the Open, and the Scot took full advantage.
Playing at his first major was incredible. The buzz of the crowd. His family there also. It was special. And his displays over the four days – rounds of 68, 72, 71 and 68 – certainly showed a player with a promising taste of the grand stage.
No wonder he wheeled away in such pride after rolling in a 25-foot birdie on the 18th to share sixth place, the best finish by a Scot at the major since Colin Montgomerie’s second place at St Andrews in 2005. If anyone hadn’t stepped up and taken notice of the Oban man yet, then his fine weekend in Portrush showed a player purring with confidence.
“I stood over my putt on the last. I got soaked on the 17th, left a 20 footer short down a hill. It’s chucking down. Greg (Milne) my caddie said ‘step away from the brolly’. I tried to reset. I am soaked. I left it short. I’m going on to the 18th thinking ‘I need a birdie to finish in the top-10’. I’m not thinking about money or winning it. I’m gone. I’m thinking ‘top-10 gets me into the Open next year’. When the birdie went in, the crowds went wild. I never felt goosebumps like that before. This is what you play golf for,” he said.
He is still young and improving, but has that X-factor that brings the best out of him when needed the most. One of the biggest struggles for young players is getting comfortable with the large crowds at tournaments. This is something he gained exposure from early in the season when playing with Ernie Els in South Africa, Tommy Fleetwood in Southport and Rory McIlroy in Scotland, players who draw serious followings around the world at every tournament.
“I dreamed of playing on the European Tour but I didn’t think I’d get as comfortable as quickly. I thought it would take me four seasons to get to where I got to,” he said.
“Overall, I felt like I got comfortable early. I played with Ernie (Els) in South Africa at his home event. The crowds were big. I got the feeling of big crowds and expectations early. That set me up for the British Masters.
“The final round I’m playing with Tommy Fleetwood. He’s hosting the tournament. The crowds were enormous. It put it in perspective that I could do it in South Africa, so I’m turning up there, I’m not like ‘I’m in bright lights here.’ It’s like, ‘let’s get to work and let’s play golf.’
“It just snowballed all year. I got comfortable. I played with Rory (McIlroy) and Ricky (Flower) at the Scottish Open. It couldn’t set me up more for what was to come at the Open.”
MacIntyre’s game is certainly at a new level compared to where it was back last January and will only improve with more experience on the European Tour in future years. At world number 64, the only way is up for the Scotsman, with strong driving accuracy, crisp iron play and consistent putting at the heart of an exciting game plan.
Although a hand injury restricted his practice entirely in the off-season, the mental and physical freshness should help him as the weeks go on, in what will be another gruelling season. Now, it’s all about getting out again and playing, and most importantly, enjoying his golf.
“There’s always places I need to improve. When I go into the competition week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I’m slow. When Thursday kicks in, I’ve always got a positive mindset. Even if I was horrific on the Wednesday, I’ll work on the range until I hit one good shot at least, and I’ll walk away going into Thursday ready to play golf,” he said.
“I don’t try to swing a golf swing on a course. Whatever swing I’ve got that day is what I’ve got and I’ll play with. I simply go out to enjoy it. Its small things I need to improve and get better between 6-12 feet. If I can hold more of them, I’ll keep climbing. If I can improve long irons, which I feel, are going good this week.
“For the season ahead, I’ve only got one goal so far, and that’s top-50 in the world by April. If I can achieve top-50, then I’ll reset the goal. The Ryder Cup would be on that then. If I don’t achieve top-50, I’d need one hell of a middle to end of the season to get that. It’s plain and simple for me – play golf and pick up ranking points.”
MacIntyre’s dad Dougie has worked as a greenkeeper at Glencruitten Golf Club for more than 20 years, and the family home looks out over the 12th tee.
During his younger days, MacIntyre and his two older sisters would go to the course after school until Dougie was finished work. His mum Carol worked an hour away so it was easier for the kids to go to the club and wait for Dougie. The course was Bob’s theatre, his opera and his cinema. It was his weekends and all his daydreams.
“For me, to become good at a sport or become world class, I’m not there yet. I’m still in the process. There is an opportunity though. With me living on a golf course and my dad being a greenkeeper, me and my sisters would go meet him at the greenkeepers shed after school and wait for him to finish. I would be practicing until he came. Whether it was rain, hail or shine, I’d be out there practicing and waiting for him to finish. That’s where you learn how to play golf. You don’t think, you just hit balls and enjoy it,” he said.
“The majority of my friends are still in Oban. They are all what I’d be if I wasn’t a golfer – plumbers, joiners, roofers, you name it. That’s why I love it. I’m not going to make from Oban. I love it. I love seeing my friends and family.”
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