It sounds ridiculously glib, but Robert MacIntyre has the best of both worlds. In his regular life, he is in seventh heaven in a new flat in Oban where he wakes to one of Scotland’s finest views. Ganavan Beach is immediately below but, beyond, he is looking across to the Isle of Mull, part of the rich tapestry of the Inner Hebrides.
“The day after I get home, I have breakfast out on the patio,” said MacIntyre. “It’s what I need.”
Staying based in the Scottish Highlands – his flat is a few hours north of Glasgow Airport – is something which, he says, will never change.
“When I’m in Oban, I’m treated the same as I’ve always been treated,” MacIntyre said. “Out on tour, people can look at you a little differently.
“I see some of the stars being pestered for autographs and part of me thinks I’d love to be like them. Deep down, though, I know how important it is to be able to switch off and separate what you do from who you are.”
I asked MacIntyre if he had ever spoken to Paul Lawrie, another native Scot who has not been lured to England and a base near Heathrow Airport. Lawrie lives in Aberdeen and is probably the only Open champion to have had to travel south to Carnoustie.
MacIntyre said he had never touched on that topic of where he should live with anyone outside of his immediate family – his parents, Dougie and Carole, and his sisters, Gillian and Nicola. (He also has two young foster brothers, Dan and Tom.)
“The decision to stay in Oban was personal, purely between me and family,” he said. “They’re brilliant with me.” And so too, is his management group – Bounce Sport – who have never wanted to turn him into something he is not.
It was MacIntyre’s mother who played the greatest part in helping him sort himself out when he was struggling during lockdown.
“The first nine or 10 weeks were fine,” he told Martin Dempster of The Scotsman. “I was trying to lose weight and become stronger, but when that finished, I felt there was nothing to do. I thought I was wasting time and wasting away.”
Such feelings were accompanied by a complete lack of motivation. All his life he had been able to walk out of the family home onto Oban’s Glencruitten course where his father is the head greenkeeper, But, all of a sudden, he had no inclination to practise at all.
For the sake of others who lose their motivation, how did he rediscover that all-important part of the puzzle?
“I didn’t force myself to play. In fact, I didn’t touch my clubs for a while and nobody suggested that I should,” he said. “Then I started to look at why I was playing professional golf at all, and the message I got back was that deep down I still loved the game. At that point, I started to make myself practise – and I mean ‘make myself’ for half-an-hour a day, and then an hour a day, and so on.”
“I can’t put my finger on why but it happened almost at the flick of a switch or, to put it another way, the holing of a putt. That’s when the smile returned to my face. Playing with a smile on my face is what works for me.” – Robert MacIntyre
Next came his summer trips to America for the PGA Championship and the US Open. “I wanted to go but I found it hard to prepare. The situation was still bad. I had no real desire to work at my game.”
As it turned out, he made the cut in both and it was in the process of finishing in a share of 56th place in the US Open that things came right. “I can’t put my finger on why but it happened almost at the flick of a switch or, to put it another way, the holing of a putt. That’s when the smile returned to my face. Playing with a smile on my face is what works for me.”
MacIntyre, whose iron play is so precise as to have people thinking that playing left-handed must be the easier way, said that speaking out about his troubles had been key. “With help, I eventually came to realise was that the bad feelings weren’t going to last forever,” he said. As he headed for last week’s Joburg Open he was No. 63 in the world ranking.
It was in asking MacIntyre if he had introduced foster brothers Dan, aged 7, and Tom, aged 13, to golf, that I began to understand more of what has made him one of the sanest sportsmen of them all. He encourages them to play, but at no point has he had even the lightest of conversations with Tom as to whether he would want to follow him into the professional ranks.
“We’ve never had that discussion any more than I had it with my parents when I was growing up,” he said. “I was encouraged to play every sport going (he played shinty for one of the Oban teams) and I want the same for Dan and Tom. They’ve got to enjoy all their sports; that’s how it should be. I’ve always been dead against kids concentrating on golf and nothing but golf from an early age.”
MacIntyre had watched snatches of the recent Masters on TV but without having any thoughts on how he might tackle the course in what should be his first trip to Augusta in April.
“You see and hear a lot about Augusta National but I won’t know how I’ll play it until I start to feel it when I get there,” he said. “That’s when my hands and my heart will tell me what I have to do.”
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