Robert MacIntyre is not a name you might readily recognise. But this down-to-earth greenkeeper’s son might just be Scotland’s next golfing superstar.
An introduction to the young man who is already Scotland’s greatest-ever left-handed golfer – admittedly not the highest bar anyone has ever cleared – is invariably straightforward, down-to-earth even.
“Hi, I’m Bob from Oban.”
Which is only the beginning of Robert MacIntyre’s story. A native of the picturesque ferry port on the western edge of the Scottish Highlands, MacIntyre is the product of an environment that is hardly typical of those populating the upper reaches of professional golf. As his mum, Carol, says, “it takes a town to make a champion.”
Let’s go back to the BMW International in Germany earlier this year. Standing in the 18th fairway on day two, MacIntyre, European Tour rookie, knows he needs a birdie to make it through to the weekend. Even more importantly, two and three weeks after a brace of runners-up finishes at the British Masters and the Made in Denmark event, the then 22-year old is well aware that a four on that par-5 will guarantee him a spot in the upcoming Open Championship at Royal Portrush. A lifetime ambition.
Nervous? A little, of course. Scared? Not a bit of it. Realistic? Totally. Standing over his approach to the distant green, MacIntyre’s mind drifted. To his house on the edge of the par-62 Glencruitten course on the hill above Oban. To his family and two older sisters. And to the two boys – 12-year old Thomas and five-year-old Dan – his parents currently foster.
“I just thought about completely different things which, for me, means the kids,” he said, after making the required birdie. “People keep asking when I’m going to move away from Oban. Simple answer? Never. I love it there. I’m an Oban boy and I don’t ever want to be anything else.
“The boys have been with us for over two years now,” MacIntyre says. “My Mum always wanted to foster but we do it as a family. We are all part of it. And it has been brilliant. At their ages you can change and influence them. And I know they love the environment at home. In the summer they are out in the garden. Water fights. Playing football. Out on the golf course. I wouldn’t change any of that. Having those kids at home puts my life and golf in perspective. It’s just a job.”
MacIntyre’s own reality matches those endearing words. Although raised virtually on the course where his father, Dougie, is one of the two-man green keeping squad (the family home sits between the 11th and 12th tees, close to the 15th and 16th greens) golf was not MacIntyre’s first sporting love. He grew up playing shinty, a ferociously competitive Highland game played with a stick that is a cross between a field hockey stick and an ice hockey stick.
“The head is slightly curved and maybe half the size of an ice-hockey stick,” says MacIntyre, who spent four years playing for his local club, Oban Camanachd. “After that, it is pretty much hockey with no rules. It can get rough. You might get clattered. And you might get bruised. But it is a family, everyone together. And it is away from the me-me-me that can be part of playing golf.”
A serious injury to a pal’s thumb and his uncle’s loss of an eye convinced the 17-year old MacIntyre to play a lot less shinty and a lot more golf. Off plus-five when he turned professional in late 2017, MacIntyre hasn’t gone up or down, at least as far as Glencruitten Golf Club is concerned. He still has to add five shots to his score when he plays in their monthly medal.
As an amateur, MacIntyre did all the things you would expect. He won the Scottish Youths Championship at the age of 17 in 2013, then the Scottish Amateur Championship two years later. In 2016 he lost in the final of The Amateur Championship, the same year he was part of the Scottish side at the World Amateur Team Championship. In 2017, he represented Great Britain & Ireland in the Walker Cup matches against the United States at the Los Angeles Country Club. In both singles sessions he was paired against the star of the home team, Cameron Champ. On the opening day, MacIntyre won 6 & 4; 24 hours later the duo fought out a halved match.
“I knew he was a great player before we got to the Walker Cup,” says MacIntyre, who rose from 247th in the world rankings at the start of 2019 to 101st by the end of July. “So I knew beating him was a big scalp to have. People were writing me off before we played so that was a motivation for me.”
There has never been much doubt about MacIntyre’s ability to compete. He first came to national prominence in the 2013 Scottish Boys Stroke-play Championship at The Roxburghe course, just outside Kelso in the Scottish Borders. There, on a course good enough to have multiple-times hosted the first stage of the European Tour Qualifying School, MacIntyre shot three rounds of 66 to win by nine shots. One of the two runners-up was future Australian Amateur Champion Conor Syme and in sixth place –11 shots back – was Callum Hill, who this year has won twice on the European Challenge Tour.
“Bob was enormously impressive that week,” says local man Ian Ford, the 1977 British Boys Champion. “His ball-striking was top-class, as was his calmness under pressure. His attitude is what I remember most though. He was in a different league really.”
Okay, time-out. Reading all of the above one might imagine we are dealing with a hick-from the-sticks, a green about the ears innocent abroad.
There is a great Scottish word, “gallus.” It hints at a character that is slightly cocky, but not quite. It suggests more that someone has a wee bit of “a way” about them. A bit short of arrogance, but definitely an air of self-confidence that will surely stand that individual in good stead going forward.
Bob MacIntyre is gallus. But there are limits. For now at least, he knows his place. Where there are those who seek out star names with whom to play practice rounds, “Bob from Oban,” is playing a different game.
“It’s something I’ve given quite a lot of thought to,” he says. “I’ve seen boys go out and play with Rory and so on but I don’t really see any point in that until we are drawn together (that duly came to pass at the Scottish Open this year).”
Still, star-struck MacIntyre certainly is not. And he isn’t afraid to speak up when he thinks it required. At the end of his second round 72 at Portrush back in July, MacIntyre spent more time discussing the conduct of playing partner Kyle Stanley than he did his own performance.
RIGHT: MacIntyre is currently 13th in the Race to Dubai standings. PHOTO: Getty Images.
“There’s a few things I’ve not been happy about today,” he began.
Specifically, MacIntyre was referring to Stanley’s inability or unwillingness to shout “fore” when his ball was heading towards unsuspecting spectators. In common with many of his fellow PGA Tour players, the American deigned to strain his vocal-chords in such circumstances, preferring to merely stick out an arm to indicate the direction of his shot. Which wasn’t good enough for MacIntyre, especially after Stanley’s drive off the 17th tee struck Stephanie Milne, the mother of his caddie, Greg. Compounding matters, three holes earlier Stanley’s ball had hit a marshal on the shin.
“The ball is going in the crowd,” continued MacIntyre. “We’re shouting ‘fore.’ We’re shouting as it’s coming into the crowd and he’s just standing watching it. People didn’t have enough time to react after we shouted.”
A confrontation then ensued between the young Scot and the 31-year old American, a 10-year veteran of the pro ranks.
“I said I wasn’t happy and I didn’t really like his response,” MacIntyre went on. “It wasn’t too pleasant. But you’ve got to tell them.”
One day later, Stanley gave a weak defence of his inactivity and lack of basic etiquette, but MacIntyre was smart enough to say no more. His point had been made.
Happily too, that mild controversy was not the defining moment of MacIntyre’s Open Championship debut, what was also his first appearance in any of golf’s four major events. Courtesy of a closing round 68 – and a wee bit of help from the worsening weather – he became the first Scot since Colin Montgomerie in 2005 to record a top-10 finish, T-6, in the game’s oldest and most important championship. At a stroke – or 279 strokes to be exact – he will be back for Royal St. George’s next year.
Speaking of Montgomerie – Caledonia’s last world-class player – MacIntyre already carries a heavy burden. Courtesy of his consistently fine play this year, “Bob from Oban” has already been compared with the eight-time European No.1, a man who was once, rather unkindly, labelled “the goon from Troon.” Is he the next great Scottish golfer? Is he the hero the nation that gave golf to the world has been waiting not-so patiently for?
“People can say what they want whenever they want,” says MacIntyre with a shrug. “All I can do is go and hit that wee white ball. I’m aware of the expectations but the only pressure I ever let myself feel is the pressure I put on myself. I get how it works. If I don’t achieve what people expect me to achieve, they’ll say I haven’t lived up to my potential. That’s fine. But I’ll never be disappointed with what I do because I know within myself that I’m giving it everything I’ve got.
“If it doesn’t work, it might be nothing more than one innocent misstep somewhere along the line. These things happen. But whatever I achieve or don’t achieve, it won’t be for lack of trying or desire.”
RIGHT: MacIntyre finished 12th on the Challenge Tour's money-list in 2018. PHOTO: Getty Images.
Again, those words are those of a man with a realistic outlook on life. MacIntyre is not for making assumptions, even if the speed at which he has progressed up the professional ladder – albeit with a slowish beginning – has exceeded his initial expectations. After making his debut in the pro ranks on the Middle East’s MENA Tour – where he finished T-3 and first in his opening two events – MacIntyre went to the European Tour Qualifying School at the end of 2017. There he finished T-37, good enough to get him a Challenge Tour card for 2018.
One year later, having finished 12th on the second circuit’s money-list, MacIntyre had his European Tour card for 2019. And it is there that his acceleration has been most pronounced.
A few things haven’t changed though. He still plays with his mates at Glencruitten. He still plays a bit of shinty now and then. And he still has a wee night out here and there, albeit with limits.
“You don’t want to make a fool of yourself, you know?” he says. “But that’s not because I’m a golfer. It’s more the way I’ve been brought up. Show people respect and all that.”
“I just want to test myself against the best players in the world. That’s the ultimate goal: to be the best I can be.” – Robert MacIntyre
Of that, we can be sure. If anyone can be relied upon to remain the same man even as fame and fortune gather pace, it is “Bob from Oban.”
“Things have happened so quickly,” he acknowledges. “It’s just snowballed from turning pro, getting my Challenge Tour card, getting my European Tour card, getting into my first major. I’m just trying to live in the moment and focus on getting a little bit better each time I play. Everything else is a product of getting that stuff right. I just want to test myself against the best players in the world. That’s the ultimate goal: to be the best I can be. Whether that’s a top-50 player or top-10 in the world, who knows? Only time will tell.”