It’s the first morning of the Open Championship at Portrush. Your correspondent, mostly tied to a desk typing furiously during Open week, has sauntered out to take the air and sample the atmosphere.
Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre, in his first Open, is coming to the end of his round, so your scribe picks him up at the short 16th. A sharp rainstorm soaks everyone – rookie mistake, I’m not wearing raingear – but we plough on and eventually down 18.
I’m walking down the right-side ropes (I have an inside-the-ropes pass but I believe you only use it when you can’t see the play). The big yellow scoreboards at 18 – iconic I guess, although I hate that word – are showing MacIntyre’s name, because he’s a shot off the lead (he would go to finish tied for fifth).
There’s a smiling woman with a young boy standing nearby taking selfies of themselves with the scoreboard as a backdrop. I get within recognition distance and see it’s Carol MacIntyre, Bob’s mum, and one of his two young foster brothers, Tom.
“One for the scrapbook, huh?” I say, and get huge grins from both back.
Robert’s outstanding support system
— Robert MacIntyre (@robert1lefty) April 12, 2021
This is a common scene at events Bob plays in. The MacIntyre entourage, his parents, sisters, brothers, and a huge crew from Glencruitten Golf Club in Oban, are to be found walking with him, lending their support.
It’s a support system that has been the making of the 24-year-old, and explains his grounded and level-headed approach to things. Bob’s a credit to them, but that’s because they’ve made him like this.
The fostering is a clue. Despite a large family of their own – now grown-up – Carol and Dougie, Robert’s Dad, are long-time foster parents. Some of the kids they’ve fostered had serious issues. Robert often refers to being with his young brothers as a perfect antidote away from the pressures of tour life.
It extends beyond family. Iain Stoddart, Bob’s avuncular manager, is one of Scottish golf’s most popular characters. He runs Bounce Management – if you could see Stoddy you’d know why they called it that – which also manages Stevie Gallacher, Calum Hill and some other Scottish players.
Stoddy’s hit the jackpot with Bob, but they’re a perfect partnership. There’s as many laughs as serious conversations.
‘A breath of fresh air’
After the weekend at the Masters, the sky does really appear to be the limit for Robert. We knew he had the game – every good judge of a golfer I’ve heard speak about him is gushing with praise. They all love his attitude – `breath of fresh air’ is the unanimous reference.
One US journalist commented that way when he saw MacIntyre’s reaction when it was confirmed he’d finished high enough for a return invite in 2022. The Scot raced up behind caddie Mikey Thomson and jumped on his back in joy. Not your standard stuff at stuffy Augusta.
Thomson, a Fifer who was working as a bakery delivery driver nine months ago, can hardly believe his luck. MacIntyre had liked him as a caddie when they had met on the Challenge Tour, and Thomson was the first name he thought of when the job became vacant. It’s quickly become a fine partnership.
And Robert has resilience as well. The best thing about the weekend was how, in a totally alien environment, he thrived. There were moments aplenty in all four rounds when he might have been crumbled, but he bounced back every time.
The four bogeys in a row on Thursday. The six at 13 on Saturday. The double at the 6th on Sunday, and the bogeys on 16 and 17. Each time he responded by bounding forward again.
That’s a trait that’s going to be precious going forward. Who knows what MacIntyre can achieve, but one suspects it’s going to be huge.
A historic Masters, but not for the golf
This was a historic Masters, but not a great one. The first Asian winner of a Green Jacket and first Japanese winner of a major will do much for the game in an area where it will benefit from extra promotion.
Augusta National have always been very aware of this. They founded the Asia-Pacific Amateur championship with the R&A (first winner:Hideki Matsuyama). They’ve always handed out invites to players from the Far East.
The club may have a (deserved) reputation as super-white and ultra-conservative, but they’ll be thrilled by Matsuyama’s win and the opportunities it creates.
But it was a mediocre tournament. Nothing to do with the club: I thought the course was set up borderline on Thursday but they knew what they were doing. It didn’t get appreciably worse than that. The storm on Saturday took the sting out for a little while, but not long.
The players were the problem
In these 5 Masters:
Spieth had been beaten by a total of SIX players.
And has one green jacket to show for it. Seems impossible.
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) April 11, 2021
It was the players. Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Bryson DeChambeau all flopped. Justin Thomas was in the hunt on Saturday before he had an epic blow-up on the 13th. Jordan Spieth played decently, but both he and Jon Rahm backed into high finishes without ever really contending.
On Sunday morning I felt Xander Schauffele was the best bet to threaten Matsuyama, and after a false start that’s what happened. Only right at the moment it mattered, with Hideki starting to wobble, Schauffele drained his ball in the 16th pond, and that was that.
Matsuyama finished bogey-bogey-par-bogey. That’s not unknown for winners at Augusta. Tiger famously chipped in at 16 in 2005, but what’s always forgotten is that he bogeyed the next two holes and needed a play-off to beat Chris DiMarco.
But for all the history made, this Masters left one feeling underwhelmed.