Oban’s Robert MacIntyre says the drive to get to the next level rather than the money is the reason he’s been on tenterhooks before getting into this week’s WGC FedEx St Jude in Memphis.
The young Scot, who won the European Tour’s rookie of the year in 2019, restarts his 2020 campaign after lockdown in the stellar field in Tennessee rather than in the European Tour’s UK Swing – mostly because he already has his places in the forthcoming PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco and the US Open at Winged Foot.
But he spent two weeks in Los Angeles quarantining getting conflicting messages about whether he would get into the Memphis field before Lee Westwood’s decision not to travel to the US opened the final spot for the Scot.
“It looked like the best option was an invitation to the Barracuda Championship on the PGA Tour, so we headed to LA to quarantine and planned to head up to San Francisco from there,” he said. “In my mind I was nowhere near to being in the WGC.
“Then I got told I was in, before I was told I was last man and if someone not otherwise exempt won the 3M Open in Minnesota at the weekend I would be out again.
“Michael Thompson won there and I was out, but then Lee said over the weekend that he was withdrawing, so suddenly I’m finally and definitely in.”
MacIntyre was bound for Memphis anyway when the news came in, gambling that a space might open up and he could play for the first time since the lockdown came into force after the Qatar Masters.
“The main thing is just being back out there playing competitive golf,” he said. “There’s an opportunity to do something, but who knows. It will just be good to get four rounds under my belt before the US PGA.”
When the USGA abandoned its qualifying tournaments for the US Open and instead awarded extra spots off the world rankings as they were at the start of lockdown, MacIntyre found himself in the field for Winged Foot and it made sense to go to the US early.
“With everything that has happened this season due to what has been going on the world, I didn’t feel I could gain as much from starting back in the UK events than coming out here,” he said.
“I don’t mean that financially as the main thing at the moment is me getting to that next level in golf. If I’d played in the UK events and won, I’d have started rising up the rankings again.
“Even if I don’t win in the US, I can do that and I will be getting to play in my first US major. In a worst-case scenario, that will still be a valuable learning experience.”
Robert has spent the lockdown constructively, fulfilling a promise to himself to lose weight and resting a nagging wrist injury that troubled him earlier in the season.
“I literally was sat at home in Oban the whole time, chilling with the family and setting things out in my life for when I was back playing golf,” he said.
“The weight loss was something I’d planned to do over the winter break, but it’s not always easy to do it at Christmas. My dad had been on a diet and he got lighter than me and I thought ‘that’s no happening’.
“I lost over a stone in weight (mostly on the exercise bike), but I won’t lose any more. The next step is to strengthen through a bit of gym work.
“The wrist has cleared up. I had eight weeks where I didn’t touch a club, which helped. The most I practised recently was a TaylorMade fitting in LA last week. I put in a long shift and it was fine.”
In the meantime, it’s been a quiet two weeks hiding away in quarantine in Los Angeles, where he found the attitude to the virus very different.
“We spent the two weeks in a nice house in LA where we were hidden away from the world. I had been in LA before to play in the Walker Cup, but I was scared of catching the virus, so we didn’t do much at all in our time there.
“We had the fitting with TaylorMade, then I started playing a bit late last week and it was good to get out of the house for a bit. But I didn’t do anything too stressful.
“The hardest part of being out here so far was the journey from LA to Memphis. In the airport and aeroplanes, I just don’t feel comfortable at the moment as people are getting too close.
“Back in Oban, everyone seems to be sticking to the social distancing but in big cities they don’t seem to be as worried about it.”
Nevertheless, he’s in Memphis now and ready to strike out and restore the rankings places lost in recent weeks. MacIntyre, now 81st on the list. added: “The top 50’s still not too far away.
“I can’t wait to get get started and playing competitive golf again.”