Robert MacIntyre might be the European Tour's hottest star right now. He was just named European Tour Rookie of the Year award, and produced the best finish by a Scot in an Open for 14 years. The only thing missing now is a victory, and he intends to get it by remaining faithful to the European Tour...
TG's Michael Catling caught up with Robert MacIntyre at the BMW PGA Championship at the end of September...
There are some rookies who believe their own hype. And then there is Robert MacIntyre, who seems oblivious to his new-found fame and fortune. After he was presented with the leader's car at the Porsche European Open – a gleaming black Porsche 911 Carrera 4S – he admits to sheepishly driving it around Hamburg, struggling to come to terms with how far he has come.
Those close to him take great delight in reminding him that he didn't even own a car this time 12 months ago. Back then, he was struggling to pay his way on the Challenge Tour, and would often run about in his mum's Chevrolet Spark back home. It's one of the many reasons why he bought her a new kitchen after finishing second at the British Masters.
"She's sacrificed a lot for me. That was my way of rewarding her," he says.
Like many 23-year-olds, he still lives at home with his parents and remains a kid at heart. He is just as happy play fighting with his foster brothers as he is playing shinty on a cold Wednesday night in Oban.
He receives no special treatment from the coach, who just happens to be his dad. But then he wouldn't want it any other way. He craves normality as much as competition, which is why he arranged to go out bowling with friends the night before he made his Major debut at Royal Portrush.
When we met him, he was warming up for the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth by hitting flop shots over the head of anyone who asks. Are you not worried about catching one thin, I ask? "Not really," he replies, before breaking out into a childish grin. It's an infectious smile which barely leaves his face as he recaps a season in which he's finished second three times and dared to dream about making next year's Ryder Cup team...
How would you describe your rookie year on the European Tour?
Fast. I didn't ever expect it to go as well as this. If I was 29 years old and top 50 in the world, you'd maybe go, 'this is what we expect'. But for my first year, having just turned 23, I didn't expect it to be as good as this.
Was the primary objective just to keep your card?
Yes, that was the main goal, and I managed to do that early. I made something like 10 out of 11 cuts and then it was about finding the next level, which was competing for a tournament. For the first 10 events, I was just finishing 30th or 25th. When I managed to get that second place, it all just snowballed.
What changed to help you make that step up?
My belief. Obviously I knew that I could compete, but at the British Masters I played with Tommy [Fleetwood] in the second to last group on his home turf, in front of his home crowd, and that gave me the belief that no matter what I was doing or where I was playing, I could compete with these guys.
Your results suggest it took you six months to feel comfortable in your surroundings. Did you feel a little overawed playing against people like Rory?
Yes, that's exactly it. I was never amazed by anyone until I played with Ernie. I've watched Ernie win Majors, and then I got drawn with him in South Africa. Charl Schwartzel was in the same group on the final day in Joburg, and it was a wake-up call. I think I finished 15th- 15th in my two weeks in South Africa and that was another step in the right direction. But I think I needed time to prove to myself that I could compete against the world's best players.
Do you feel like you should have already claimed your maiden win on the European Tour?
Yeah! I feel like I should have won [Made in] Denmark, even though Bernd [Wiesberger] played unbelievably all week. I felt like I let it slip on 17. That was my chance. I just thought, get it down 18 all square. I expected to win it there because the golf hole couldn't have suited me any better with the wind direction and stuff.
At the British Masters, I threw everything at it and came up just short. But I didn't expect to win that. That was just a bonus because I threw the kitchen sink at that. In Germany, I just felt like I didn't get the odd break. Paul Casey holed putts at the end when you need to and I couldn't get the ball to go in. The first five holes I could have been five-under-par and the golf tournament probably would have been over. But these things happen for a reason. Hopefully the next time I'm in that position it will be my turn.
Can you take confidence from the fact that you actually played really well in those three final rounds, and were arguably just beaten by the better man on the day?
In Germany, people said the third round cost me, but when you're leading your first European Tour event proper by four shots... it's different to if you're leading by one. It was another learning experience. When I birdied the last and finished two-over, I felt like I had played well and things just didn't go my way. I actually walked off the course, knowing people were probably thinking he'll be disappointed, but I was actually thinking, Robert MacIntyre's name is still at the top of the leaderboard. It doesn't matter how I get there; it's about being in that position. I gave myself the best chance and had a putt on the 18th to force a play-off. That's all you can do I think.
If you've got nine holes to go and you've still got a chance to win, it doesn't matter if I'm fighting for my card or I'm one of the best in the world, I'm always going to play the same way. And that is to go for it.
In the past we've seen players perhaps settling for second place because of the prize money or points. But on the 72nd at the Porsche European Open, you went straight for the flag and only just cleared the water with your second shot. Did you consider laying up?
No, I wanted to win. That's the way I play. You can make money, but what are you remembered for? The guy who keeps finishing second or the guy who keeps winning? I want to be remembered as a winner. Since I've turned pro, I've had five second places and got beaten in two play-offs on the Challenge Tour. I've just not had my turn yet.
Do you still have to pinch yourself when you see the amount of money you're winning at each event?
I do a lot. My sisters are at me all the time, nagging away, asking for some. No, I mean the money is great, but I compete because I love competing. I love the fight. I've got an aggressive nature about me and I'll never give up until it's over. It doesn't matter what I'm doing, even if I'm playing a game of chess. If someone beats me, I'm like, 'right, let's go again'. I want to beat you. It's that fight which I think is reflected in my golf game as well.
How close are you to your family, and what kind of impact have they had on your career?
Growing up, my dad was a good sportsman. He didn't have the opportunity to further his career, so I feel like my mum and dad wanted to give me and my two sisters every opportunity. My sisters ended up sacrificing a lot because when my mum or dad were away with me, it meant they couldn't go and do something with them. So, they've all sacrificed so much and that's why if I can help them, I will. I mean, the kitchen is the pride and joy of my mum now. She's always in there, baking cakes. It's something she likes and so do I because I get to eat them! But the way I've been brought up, I just want to help any way I can.
What are some of your earliest childhood memories playing golf?
I grew up playing in Oban at Glencruitten Golf Club. My first memory was probably playing in my first-ever tournament. I shot over a hundred! I was seven or eight years old, but I was out with my best mate and his dad walked round with us, and taught us the rules as we went along so we could go and play by ourselves after the first few weeks. It was a relaxed environment up there, and that's why I still live there, why I'll probably never move.
When did you start to realise that you could potentially forge a career in golf?
When I was 16 or 17, that's when I went, 'I'm going to give golf a go'. I put in the hard work at a young age and won Scottish Boys' and Scottish Youths' when I was 16. I also played in the Dunhill in 2013 with Eduardo de la Riva. I was an amateur then and I remember thinking in a few years I could actually get out here and compete. Just after I turned pro, I shot six-under in my last round in the second stage of Tour School to get into the final stage. If I shoot five-under-par, I don't get in and I'm not here.
Things happen and when they do, you've got to take full advantage. I've always believed it's about giving it everything you've got and seeing where you end up. If Germany is my last ever top 10, at least I've done something I've dreamed of doing. I've competed at the top end of the game, played in The Open and people would say, 'boy, you did alright as a professional golfer'.
Does living at home help to keep you grounded?
Aye. I've got two wee foster brothers, Dan and Thomas. When I go home, we're play fighting and it's brilliant. They're six and 12, and it gives you a different perspective on life. These kids have come from a background I couldn't even imagine. I've seen some things that I didn't think I'd ever see in life. That's why when my mum wanted a new kitchen, I goes, 'right, let's go and get that new kitchen'. A happy life is a better life. If I can help anyone, it's the first thing I do.
How do you relax away from the course?
I play a bit of shinty when I'm at home. My dad coaches for Oban Celtic. He used to play at the highest standard you can play at so that's my first love in sport. People ask, 'are you not afraid about getting injured?' But I don't want to be wrapped in cotton wool. I'm a fighter. I like the rough and tumble. If I can do something that I enjoy and it's got a bit of a competitive edge to it, then sign me up. I'm there.
Are your brothers into golf?
It's funny, we were down at the British Masters and I had Thomas and Dan there. Dan doesn't know much about golf, but Thomas is older and he's got the bug for golf now. He was watching Tommy on TV and going, 'can I get his autograph, can I get his autograph?' I goes, 'calm down. I'll go get it for you'. So, I took them over while Tommy was doing all his interviews and I just went, 'any chance you can sign something?' And he was like, 'no bother', so that was really cool. I do pinch myself, but them also. At The Open, me and my mum and dad were sitting in the players' lounge and Tiger Woods was walking past. Guys like that remind them not just how far I've come, but how far we've come as a team.
Is that how you refer to your entire support network?
Yep, we're all a team. There's only one individual that hits the shot, but to get to this position is down to my management company (Bounce Sport), David Burns, my swing coach, and Greg, my caddie, who's been on my bag for about 35 events now. Then there's my mum and dad; my best mate as well. At The Open, everyone was there. We had the whole squad.
What was it like playing in the same group as Phil at Portrush?
Brilliant! I mean, I was star-struck when I was in the locker room at The Open. As I walked out, Phil was walking in and I kind of stood aside, letting him in the door. He was my idol growing up. Left-handed. Plays the game with zero fear. On his day, he's a superstar. How surreal was it seeing your name on the leaderboard at The Open on Sunday? I didn't expect it. I thought I could compete, but surprisingly enough I didn't putt my best that week. Long range was brilliant; short range was poor. But I was hitting it that good that it didn't really matter too much. Finishing top 10, I mean I couldn't have dreamed of a better start other than winning.
You only just missed out on qualifying for The Masters. Is that a goal between now and the end of the year?
That's in my sight. Once I saved my card, I knew I had to shoot for different goals and that was one of them. Now we'll see how far we can go by the end of the year.
How ambitious are you?
I do set goals, but I don't share them. They are kept within the team. But every goal that I've set this year I've destroyed. They've gone. If the season finished right now, I would say I've had a great season. But you've got to keep reassessing. I've set other goals. They're big goals, but with the events I've got coming up, if I play the way I know I can I do not see any reason why I won't reach them.
Have you dared to dream about making the European Ryder Cup team?
Yeah, I mean, that's a long-term goal. Whether it's the next Ryder Cup or one down the line, as a professional golfer that's the one you want to play. It's always in the back of the mind, but I see it as a reward for playing good golf.
We've seen Tom Lewis recently win his PGA Tour card at the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. Is that something you might consider trying to do, further down the line?
It could be. I mean, I had the chance to go to qualifying this year through my finish at The Open. But I've just turned 23. Do I want to be juggling two tours right now? No. I've not conquered Europe yet. I might never want to play in the States. It's a big move. My full focus is on the European Tour. I'm an Oban boy and if I can stay on the European Tour for the rest of my life, I'll be happy enough.
Since we spoke to MacIntyre, he finished in 11th place in the Race to Dubai, and was awarded the European Tour's Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award