Bob MacIntyre: Still Game, shinty and creches – time on side of golf’s rising star
Having led the field early on the back nine of the European Open in Hamburg on Sunday, Bob MacIntyre got to the 18th tee in need of an eagle on the par five to force a play-off with Paul Casey. He bombed his drive down the left side of the fairway then went fearlessly at the pin with his second, straight over the water and on to the front of the putting surface.
All day he had struck lovely putts that refused to drop – and here was another. He tapped in for birdie and finished tied for second – again. It was the third such finish in his rookie year.
Walking off the green, he allowed himself a smile. Second wasn't what he wanted, but he could put it into context easily enough. Just turned 23, this has been a quite brilliant season for the the hugely impressive boy from the quirky golfing terrain of Glencruitten in Oban.
He tells a story about his home place that makes him crease up with laughter: “It's wild, a par 62, up and down mountains, short and tough and tight. There are two green keepers and one of them is my dad. As a kid, there'd be 12 or more of us young guys there playing little chipping games. Who can spin it the most? Who can find that little gap through the trees? Who can clip it off the top of a tree root and get it closest?
“We were learning without even knowing we were learning. It was just great fun and very relaxed. Del came up once [Derek Ritchie, who along with director Iain Stoddart are the men behind his management company, Bounce] and he's in the clubhouse and he says, ‘this place reminds me of somewhere'. All the old boys were in there having the chat. Great stories. Then Del goes, ‘I know! It's like The Clansman from Still Game!' Brilliant. He meant it as a compliment. It's very laid back, very friendly, no pretensions about itself. My kind of place.”
‘I have a helmet and a big hockey glove'
MacIntyre still lives at home, but occasionally his growing fame might get him an invite to see what it's like in the land of luxury. He spent a night in Loch Lomond recently, walked into his palatial bedroom, looked at his bed with more pillows and cushions than he'd ever seen in his life and wondered: “How are you supposed to get to sleep in that?”
He'll get used to it soon enough. On Sunday, he may not have taken away the trophy but he had the soothing balm of a cheque for nearly 150,000 euros to go with earlier pay days of £259,302 for finishing runner-up at the British Masters in May, 333,330 euros for finishing second at the Made in Denmark event the same month and 277,950 euros for playing his way into sixth at the Open championship in July – the first major of his career.
MacIntyre has won almost 1.2m euros in his debut season, has just entered the world's top 100 for the first time while sitting 13th in the European Tour's Race to Dubai. He's virtually nailed on to win rookie of the year, a title won in recent seasons by Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka. The higher he climbs the more prestigious events he gets to play in, the more money he stands to make, the greater his profile grows. How would he describe his year so far? “Fast,” he replies.
Let's slow it down, then. For all that he loves golf, you get the impression that MacIntyre is happiest when talking about home. He's fiercely proud of Oban and its people, its sense of community and its inherent kindness. His first sporting love was shinty and it remains a passion and a release from the pressures of the day job. He always has his stick in the boot of the car, just in case.
Shinty is in the blood, as he explained: “I'd be at training tonight [with Oban Celtic, the team his dad helps to manage], but I'm doing this instead. Looking at the weather [grey and miserable], I might have dodged a bullet. I have a helmet and a big hockey glove I wear to protect my hand, which needs protecting because it's a rough, tough sport. People ask me about the dangers of picking up an injury and, yeah, it's possible. But I'll never stop playing it.
“It gets my mind away from golf. I'm just out there with the boys having a wee game of shinty. I remember in April I shot 78, 77 and missed the cut in Morocco and I came home and I was like, ‘I'm not really enjoying this, it's all golf, golf, golf'. It was more on the mental side than anything else. I was tired and I needed to do something else – and that was shinty. I spoke to my mum and dad about it, went back training and finished second in the British Masters in my next event.”
Essential to the discussion about what home means to him are the boys, Thomas, aged 12, and Dan [otherwise known as Dan The Man], aged six. The MacIntyres are a foster family and, although Thomas and Dan are not his blood relatives, he calls them his brothers. “That's what they are,” he says. “They're family.”
How much does he know about their back story? “I know as much as I need to know,” he says. “We had two kids prior to Thomas and Dan and I knew the back story there and I felt like it influenced me when I saw their parents. I didn't want to know everything. I know snippets. I know enough.
“I can't imagine what life would be like without them now. Quieter for one thing, I suppose. They're brilliant. I was on FaceTime to Dan just there. He'd been in the cupboard where we keep the kids' costumes. He was wearing a white beard. ‘How's it going, Dan?”http://www.bbc.co.uk/”I'm not Dan, I'm Santa'. ‘OK, Santa, you awright?”http://www.bbc.co.uk/”
Nobody should underestimate the importance of the boys to the rise of their big brother in the golfing world. “Being older, Thomas is switched on,” MacIntyre says. “He's into a lot of sports – football, golf, shinty. The pair of them cause mayhem, Dan in particular. Absolutely brilliant. Dan is like the Duracell Bunny. He just never stops.
“At the Scottish Open, he was in the creche on the first day for a little bit because you wouldn't know what he'd get up to if you let him loose. He's sitting in the creche for 10 minutes and he's obviously not having it, so unbeknownst to me, because I'm on the first tee at this stage, he calls my mum and says, ‘I don't like this'. So my mum went and got him.
“I'm playing with Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler and I'm really nervous. I mean, I get nervous on the first tee at Glencruitten when I look around and I see 15 members looking at me through the curtains, but the Scottish Open was a different level. On the first tee, I was that nervous I was worried about being able to put the tee in the ground, but I hole a birdie putt on the first green and that calms me down and then I hear somebody shouting, ‘go, Bob!' and I'm thinking, ‘I know that voice'. I turn around and I see Dan, clear as day with his ginger hair and I look over at Rory and Rickie and I'm thinking, ‘aw no, what's gonna happen here?”
‘He hadn't a scooby who I was'
Dan was on his best behaviour even if Bob's game wasn't quite there. He missed the cut and kicked on to Portrush for the Open. “I love Phil Mickelson and, one day, as he was walking into the locker room, I was walking out,” MacIntyre recalls. “I just pulled over to the side and let him go. I said, ‘you awright?' and he kinda nodded at me. He hadn't a scooby who I was.”
Portrush was a seminal moment for him. His first major, the greatest field he'd ever competed in, the biggest crowd, the most pressure. The noise that week blew him away.
He says he'll never forget the sound of McIlroy's people on the Friday when he was coming down the stretch in a bid to make the cut. MacIntyre was on the practice putting green and a roar would go up from the distance to signal a McIlroy birdie, then another roar, then another. MacIntyre said he'd never heard cheers like it when the Northern Irishman was coming down 18. Golf, but not as he knew it.
MacIntyre wasn't shocked that he played well that week, but he was massively surprised that he finished sixth. “I had a birdie on 18 and the weather was really starting to come in,” he says. “I was on the leaderboard at that stage. I went to the merchandise shop to buy some stuff and the rain got worse. It was bouncing off the roof. I was walking around the shop and hearing the wind and rain outside and going, ‘you beauty!”http://www.bbc.co.uk/”
In the wake of the Open, he missed a few cuts in Sweden and Switzerland but bounced back in Germany last week. He led by four on Friday night and was still one clear on the back nine on Sunday when Casey started to hole the kind of putts that refused to drop for MacIntyre.
“I'm disappointed, but we're getting closer and closer,” he said. No doubt about it. With three seconds and a sixth in the past five months, the maiden victory can't be far away. And neither will his brothers be. Thomas will be euphoric if and when it happens. And Dan? Lord only knows what Dan The Man will do. The thought of it makes him smile. Talented and humble, he's got a lot to smile about right now.
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