Just as with the PGA Tour, the European Tour finds that new players are cycling through the circuit at a high rate of speed
VIRGINIA WATER, England – Just as with the PGA Tour, the European Tour finds that new players are cycling through the circuit at a high rate of speed.
The newest wunderkind on this side of the Atlantic is Norway’s Viktor Hovland, who decided to take up European Tour membership when Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington suggested that it would be a good way to earn a spot on next year’s Ryder Cup team. Harrington expects to work some rookie talent into his 12-man squad.
Another potential Ryder Cup rookie is Robert MacIntyre. The soft-spoken, baby-faced Scot is from Oban, a little resort town within the Argyll and Bute area on Scotland’s northwest coast.
Oban is known for its whisky, but MacIntyre, at 23, has made a name for himself at home, as well. He won the 2015 Scottish Amateur, played in the 2016 Eisenhower Trophy and the 2017 Walker Cup.
“I didn’t know I was going to be good enough,” MacIntyre said in reflection after shooting 3-under 69 in the first round of the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday at Wentworth Club (scores). He trailed leader Matt Wallace of England by four strokes. “Once I made the decision, it was all on golf.”
His career came into focus in 2013, when he played in the Dunhill Links at St. Andrews as a 17-year-old amateur. Even though MacIntyre played from the forward tees, he envisioned himself as being able to compete on tour eventually.
MacIntyre experienced a similar awareness at McNeese State in Lake Charles, La., in 2014-15, recognizing that he could play with the best college golfers. He eventually climbed as high as No. 14 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking before turning pro in 2017.
After one year on Europe’s Challenge Tour, MacIntyre earned an exemption onto the European Tour, and he hasn’t looked back.
“I've gained confidence at every level I've played at,” said MacIntyre, who stands No. 96 in the Official World Golf Ranking. “But coming out on the European Tour, I was in awe when I played with Ernie [Els] and [Charl] Schwartzel earlier in the season, and I was a bit backward. "But playing with world-class players has given me confidence as I'm holding my own against them. If that doesn't give you confidence, then you are probably in the wrong game."
That confidence has produced runner-up finishes for MacIntyre at the British Masters, Made in Denmark and, most recently, the Porsche European Open two weeks ago. But his biggest achievement might have come in July at the British Open, when he shot a final-round 68 at Royal Portrush to tie for sixth in his major-championship debut.
“To do that in my first one was unbelievable,” MacIntyre said. “To get the shot again next year, I’m trying to get myself into them [the majors] before the end of the year, so I can maybe play two or three next year. But I’m just worried what I do this week.”
MacIntyre focuses on small goals while on the golf course, trying to keep the bigger picture out of mind. After his first round Thursday at the BMW, he identified a few missed opportunities: a missed short birdie putt on the par-3 14th that would have gotten him to 6 under; consecutive bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16, both par 4s; and failing to birdie the two closing holes, both par 5s.
"Walking off the last green, I was livid,” MacIntyre said. “I've dropped four shots, really, and missed a great chance on the par-3 14th, as well. To walk off 3 under is a bit disappointing, but I will take it after a bogey start.”
Three weeks ago, Harrington played with MacIntyre at the Omega European Masters and came away impressed.
“I definitely liked his game; no doubt about it,” Harrington said of the left-hander. “I'd be very happy if he plays his way into my team.”
For MacIntyre, making the Ryder Cup team remains a distant thought, but it never hurts when the captain knows his name.
"I had never met Padraig before we played together in Switzerland,” MacIntyre said. “We had a bit of a joke on the first tee when I said to him, 'I'm Bob.’ He's the Ryder Cup captain, and you respect that, but he's just another guy to try and beat.”