AUGUSTA, Ga. — Robert MacIntyre was 12 tournaments into his rookie season on the European Tour when he wanted to go home to Scotland, a surprise only because of his blue-collar nature to never shy away from a fight.
He was lonely on the road. He was 22 and felt like he had to carry himself like a “seasoned campaigner.” MacIntyre was losing the joy of sport. Back home in Oban, a tiny coastal town on the western edge of the Scottish Highlands, he sat down his parents and and told them he needed a change.
“I wasn’t going to be giving up the game,” he said. “But it was going to take a back seat just now. I was going to take a few weeks off. I could see my dad looking at me. He knew what was coming. I said, ‘I’m going back to playing shinty.’”
It’s a sport as old as Scotland, which MacIntyre once described as a combination of field hockey and legalized violence. It more closely resembles the rough-and-tumble Irish sport of hurling. Both are more dangerous than golf.
“It was a bit scary,” his mother, Carol, said of the family meeting. “But it’s in his blood to play shinty.”
His grandfather, Dougie MacIntyre Sr., was regarded as among the best to ever play. His father (Dougie) and uncle (Gordon) scored all three goals when Oban Camanachd won its last league title in 1996, the year MacIntyre was born.
So instead of playing the China Open, he trained on Tuesday and Thursday and played a shinty match on Saturday. The next day, he drove to Southport, England, for the British Masters and tied for second.
Then it was back to shinty, with drills and practice on Tuesday and Thursday and the game on Saturday. Then he flew to Denmark and finished second again in golf, one shot behind Bernd Wiesberger.
“In shinty, it can get rough, tough, aggressive. But it keeps the fight in you,” MacIntyre said. “All you need is one good shot to turn it around. That’s what it’s like on the golf course. That’s the background I’m from. It gives me that fight and drive to achieve what I want to do.”
He recalls being criticized for taking such a risk as a golfer. He also remembers his reply.
“Some people take drugs, drink, the lot,” he said. “My drug is shinty.”
His job is golf, and those two weeks of feeling like a kid again — riding the bus with his pals, singing and having a few beers on the way home — renewed his purpose and his fight.
He went on to win the Sir Henry Cotton Award as the European Tour rookie of the year in 2019. He won in Cyprus last year for his first European Tour victory and kept moving up in the world ranking until he cracked the top 50.
Next stop: Augusta National for the Masters.
MacIntyre posted the official notification from the club on Twitter and wrote, “Dreams do come true.”
He gained some attention two weeks ago when Masters champion Dustin Johnson had to rally to halve their match in the Dell Match Play. Then, needing a birdie on the final hole against Adam Long to win his group, MacIntyre hit driver on the 371-yard closing hole so perfectly that it rolled up a bank and onto the green to 3 feet, the shot of the tournament.
“You’ve just got to keep fighting to the end,” he said.
Lee Westwood loves his game and his humor. They played one round in Scotland last year before MacIntyre had to withdraw. They didn’t play again until The Players Championship last month.
“He didn’t make a birdie in Scotland. He didn’t make a birdie the first nine holes here,” Westwood said. “He birdied 11 and he went, ‘That’s the first birdie I’ve ever made playing with you.’ I like his game. He’s aggressive. He putts so nicely. He’s got a good future.”
MacIntyre is the latest hope to restore some golfing glory to Scotland; while the Masters was his first goal, the Ryder Cup is very much on his radar.
He grew up in a house overlooking the 12th tee at Glencruitten Golf Club, a James Braid course that plays as a par 62 and demands creativity. His father is the greenskeeper, and MacIntyre and his two older sisters would play a four-hole loop at the end of the day.
There’s no place he’d rather be than Oban. It is a town of about 8,500 that he described as “punching about its weight,” much like MacIntyre.
“Have you been to Loch Lomond?” he said. “Take the Loch Lomond road, and if you don’t come off the road for two hours, you’ll come to Oban.”
That it could produce the highest-ranked Scottish golfer (No. 44) is not a surprise, least of all to the left-handed MacIntyre, a scrappy lad known to mix it up whether it’s golf or shinty.
“There’s few folk from a smaller town than I’m from, but you’ve just got to dream,” he said. “A lot of people will doubt you, try to put you down, tell you that you can’t do things. If you work hard enough and smart enough with the right people around you, anything is possible in this game.”
MacIntyre played one year at McNeese State in Louisiana, competing against the likes of Jon Rahm. He played the Walker Cup at Los Angeles Country Club, where he beat Cameron Champ in one match (6 and 4) and halved with him in another. And then he made his pro debut on the MENA Tour (Middle East and North Africa).
He opened with a 78 and then set the course record at 64 in the final round to tie for third.
The Masters will be his seventh straight week in this American adventure he’s on. He got off to a rough start in the World Golf Championship in Florida, where he tied for 61st. MacIntyre spoke that week of having issues at home without elaborating, except to say it was no excuse.
Turns out his grandfather, the shinty legend, had died the week before at age 89.
His mother joined him in Austin, Texas, with a self-anointed job description as “chief cook, bottle washer and laundry servant.” MacIntyre described her as someone who would do anything for anyone and “she does it well.”
“She doesn’t get the attention she deserves and she doesn’t want it,” he said.
Proof of that is back home in Oban. The family decided years ago to take in foster children, particularly those who have been neglected or abused. That has shaped him as much as shinty.
Even those full of fight have room for compassion.
“When the wee boy first arrived, my mom went to give him a cuddle and he backed up,” MacIntyre said. “It brings a tear to my eye thinking about it. Some of the kids arrive with nothing, and you see your mom work endlessly to let them play golf, football, teach them to swim, every life skill they need.
“They come with nothing and they go away with as much as we can give them,” he said. “I’ve matured a lot seeing that.”