The weekly updating of golf’s official world rankings has always been an intriguing, eagerly anticipated exercise. Numbers are crunched and results are punched into a super computer before the new rankings are spewed out into the public domain amid the racket of clanking pistons, birling pulleys and chuff-chuffs of steam. Well, that’s how I think it works.
Robert MacIntyre has not hit a ball competitively since the DP World Tour Championship in November but, in that time, he has moved from 56th on the global order to 51st due to the way in which the rolling average of performance is calculated.
“If I kept going like that I’d have my feet up in Oban right now,” chuckled the Scot, who is in Abu Dhabi this week for his 2021 season opener. “Just sitting at home with a beer watching myself go up the rankings was nice.”
Breaking into the top 50, of course, could lead to a Masters invitation and a whole host of other giddy treats and possibilities. “But I’m not just trying to get into the top 50, I’m trying to surpass that,” he added. “If that’s my limit then that’s my limit but I don’t think it is.”
A year ago, MacIntyre was forced to pull out of the Abu Dhabi showpiece with a niggling wrist injury. The grim arrival of the coronavirus pandemic a few weeks later meant the feel-good factor that was generated by him winning the rookie of the year prize in 2019 was quickly dampened.
From a campaign shrouded in clouds, however, MacIntyre emerged with a silver lining and won his maiden tour title in Cyprus as he finished a disjointed 2020 with a flourish.
MacIntyre had been very open about the mental toll the various lockdown measures had on him last year. Over the last few weeks, and with strict restrictions still in place, the 24-year-old feels he has coped much better. “I’ve not struggled at all this time,” he admitted. “If you go through a struggle and come out of it, then you’re in a better spot for the next struggle. I’ve been able to play more golf this lockdown. Last time I wasn’t touching a club at all. When I get away from home to go and compete, it changes me massively. The more I’m playing golf, the more I feel like myself. I’m sure that’s the same for a lot of people who love their jobs. If they’re not working, then they don’t feel like themselves. Golf is my life. If you don’t have golf you’re not living.”
MacIntyre is leading the kind of life that would make Riley envious but he is reaping the rewards of his drive, dedication and wonderful natural talent. In this game of fine margins, every little helps and MacIntyre has made small changes to his routine which he believes can have big benefits. “I used to practise with my phone in my back pocket but I’ve stopped that,” he explained of a more disciplined approach. “I studied a lot of the experienced guys I’ve played with like Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry or Tommy Fleetwood and watched how they carry themselves on the range or on the course. They seemed more focussed than I was.
“So I don’t have my phone at all when I’m working. If it improves me by just one per cent then it’s worth it. The processes in golf are huge. I used to worry about the outcome and I didn’t win at all in two years so I was failing every week. So if I set little goals that are achievable every week and keep feeling like I’m achieving them, then I can keep building.
“You have to keep thinking about the processes until it’s cut-throat time at an event. I used to be too worried about trying to win a tournament. You can’t win them all. If you go in thinking ‘I’m dying to win’ then you’ll fail.”
Just over three years ago, MacIntyre began his professional career in the Middle East on the third-tier MENA Tour. He started with a 78 on his debut in Jordan, roared back to finish third and then won in Kuwait a week later.
“It wasn’t as comfortable back then, I was fighting for my life, at least that’s how it felt,” he reflected of that stint at the coal face. “But my golf’s not changed or my will to do well. If anything it’s got greater because of the things I can achieve. The stakes are much bigger now. It just comes back down to me enjoying myself. If I do that, then I’ll play good golf.”