Let’s face it, there’s never a good time for the advent of a global pandemic, right?
The comparatively simple old days of 2019 elicit just the kind of nostalgia that should be followed by a colliery brass band wistfully playing the tune from the Hovis bread advert, considering the grim havoc wrought by the coronavirus in recent turbulent months.
There are plenty of reasons for Robert MacIntyre to look back fondly on those seemingly unpleasant days of success when he was still a European Tour novice and had developed a thrilling steam head once reserved for Casey Jones.
MacIntyre started the new campaign with a strong top-10 finish at the Dubai Desert Classic as the 2020 season rolled around. In the world rankings, he was 65th and a debut at the Masters was squarely in his sights.
And then, when Covid-19 rolled in, the planet faltered, tournaments were cancelled or postponed and the global game fell into disarray, like everything else.
“From a golfing perspective, I wasn’t quite up to it,” confessed the Oban left-hander after a stressful year of interruptions, crossing his fingers, quarantine and irritating physical ailments.
“It was definitely difficult to get things moving. I’m a huge fan of playing week-to-week and keeping some momentum going, but it was hard. Yes, for the most part, it was disappointing, but I’m still 68th in the Race to Dubai and I have to look at the big picture. Because of the hand injury, I made a lot of improvements to my golf. Not crazy changes, but changes that had to be made.
“The Scottish Open recently (he finished 14th) showed me some good signs, it was a real eye opener.”
It was an eye-opening year for MacIntyre. He made the cut at both the US PGA Championship and US Open in his debut, although his decision to end his working partnership with his caddy Greg Milne demonstrated the business-like attitude of the 24-year-old. It’s nothing personal and all that.
In retrospect, I would hope that Greg and I are going to get back together,” added MacIntyre of an alliance that earned him three runner-up finishes and a sixth place finish at the Open. “With a lot of players and caddies, that happens. It’s faith, isn’t it? I know how he’s going to work, and vice versa. But we were just stuck in the mud and I felt like new experiences were needed for both of us.
At the best of times, spending too much time in the company of each other can take a toll, but with the corona virus restricting mobility and pushing touring relationships into strict bubbles, it is not shocking that many players have felt the wearying effects of this incarceration of golf.
MacIntyre, who had to withdraw from last weekend’s Scottish Championship with a hip and back problem, said, “I have great sympathy for the players who have struggled.” “Your mental health is more important than a golf tournament.” The bladder is there, so that we can comfortably play golf. Are they entertaining? Oh, no. And if someone thinks it’s funny, they’re not right in the brain, either.
“The hardest thing for me was in Valderrama at the Andalucia Masters. I was out very early one day and finished around 11 in the morning. It was too windy to even hit balls on the range, so I just went back to the hotel and was basically stuck there for 24 hours before I could tee off again. That’s not easy to do. It got on my nerves and I didn’t enjoy it for a while.”
MacIntyre just had to put his head down and move on, like everyone else, but that’s easier said than done. An episode of “A Man and His Dog” will make the absence of spectators at the packed events so far look like a DeMille epic, and the absence of an encouraging roar here or a cheer from the stands is palpable. “You think back to things like the Scottish Open last year when I was in the big group with Rory (McIlroy) and Rickie (Fowler) and it was surging and you were feeding off the energy,” he reflected. “But now you make a big putt or hit a good shot and there’s nothing. You just have to pick yourself up.”
MacIntyre has now found his foot on the real estate ladder, purchasing his first apartment in Oban, having made great strides in professional golf. He said with a chuckle, “I’m all grown up now and just moved in this week,” before preparing to leave his own little bubble and return to blackness.