Sandy Lyle has yet to meet Bob MacIntyre. But, judging by the two-time major winner’s personal plaudit, he is well aware of the impact being made by the 23-year-old from Oban.
“He will be as happy as a pig in s**t,” said Lyle as he delivered his verdict on MacIntyre’s maiden season on the European Tour.
MacIntyre, of course, has a long way to go before he can be talked about in the same breath as Lyle, inset, a former Open and Masters champion, in terms of enjoying success on the game’s biggest stages, but the left-hander certainly made lots of people sit up and take notice in 2019.
He finished second three times on the European circuit and chalked up seven top-ten finishes, including a tie for sixth behind Shane Lowry on his major debut in the Open Championship at Royal Portrush. His season-long efforts saw him become the first Scottish player to claim the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award since 2006.
Lyle, who was just 20 at the time, picked up the same prize back in 1978 before going on to become one of European golf’s “big five” in the 1980s along with Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam.
Only time will tell if MacIntyre can become the Sandy Lyle of the new generation, but, along with many others in the game, Lyle himself has been mightily impressed to see the young Scot waste no time breaking into the world’s top 100 and, sitting 64th heading into the new year, having a chance of joining him in the Masters line-up at Augusta National in April.
“Robert is looking really good and it’s all very positive,” added the 61-year-old, speaking as he received a PGA in Scotland Recognition Award in Glasgow.
“We were all saying a few years ago, ‘where is Scottish golf going?’ We hardly had anybody playing in The Open and things like that.
“But it goes in waves. We might have a ten-year gap when we don’t have any Scots to cheer and then all of a sudden you can have three of them banging away. MacIntyre has come through and he looks very good.”
After turning professional in 1977, Lyle won the European Tour’s qualifying school that year before landing the Nigerian Open in his first full season in the paid ranks in 1978. Using that as a springboard, he went on to record 32 professional victories.
“Your first year, it’s a kind of feeling-around year and it’s all a learning process,” said Lyle. “Some learn quicker than others. During my first year, I finished 49th on the Order of Merit which was a pretty good achievement. It gave you that chance to play.
“You never know, next year might not happen as we’d expect it to for Robert, but he’s got big events, he knows the scene now and importantly he’s got momentum. You have to earn that. You can’t just go into a local shop and buy it.”
When he starts his 2020 campaign early next month, MacIntyre will set out from the family home in Oban, having made no secret of the fact he has no desire to move closer to either Glasgow or Edinburgh airports to make life easier for himself in terms of travel.
“The way he is going, he can soon have a helicopter to get him to the airport,” quipped Lyle, who, speaking from experience through his Scottish base being at Balquhidder in rural Perthshire, reckons there is nothing wrong with MacIntyre sticking with what he knows.
“I was living in Wentworth for many years and was only 15 miles or so from Heathrow,” said Lyle. “But that journey could still take over an hour at times. When I’m in Balquhidder I’m 60 miles from Glasgow but can do that in just over an hour.”