The Open: Sole Scot Bob MacIntyre ready to ‘fight for the flag’

According to some, it should be flying at half mast due to just one Scot - the lowest in history - being in the 156-strong field for this week’s Open at Royal St George’s. But don’t dare say that within earshot of that sole Saltire standard bearer on the Kent coast.

Bob MacIntyre during a practice round for the 149th Open at Royal St George's. Picture: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images.
Bob MacIntyre during a practice round for the 149th Open at Royal St George's. Picture: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images.

Aware that it was fluttering in the wind behind him on the towering 18th-hole grandstand at the Sandwich venue, Bob MacIntyre declared in a passionate tone: “I just love seeing the Scotland flag flying here. Everything about Scotland is brilliant.”

MacIntyre had four of his compatriots for company as he enjoyed a brilliant debut in the game’s oldest major when tying for sixth behind Shane Lowry at Royal Portrush two years ago. He’d have preferred to have some Caledonian company again this week, but it is what it is.

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“I just play golf because I love it. I compete because I love the fight,” he said in reply to being asked by The Scotsman how he felt having a nation’s hopes riding on his shoulders alone in an event featuring players from 27 different countries.

Bob MacIntyre smiles in the build up to his second appearance in the game's oldest major, having tied for sixth at Portrush in 2019. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

“Week to week, it changes with your mental state, your emotions, how you feel. But you come to an Open and you’re the only Scot, you’re fighting for the flag. As long as I’m playing this game, I’ll be flying the flag for Scotland as much as I can. It’s in the blood, I’m fully Scottish - Scotland through and through.”

The 32,000 fans being allowed on the four championship days will contain some Scots, even though this venue is easily the furthest away from the home of the game on the R&A’s rota for the game’s oldest major.

“They’ll all have my back,” said MacIntyre, smiling. “It’s not like I’m playing somewhere there aren’t going to be Scottish fans there to cheer me on. Of course, there will be people going against you. It doesn’t matter where you’re playing. But there are going to be a fair few Scots here, I think, so I’m going to be all right on that side of things.”

The Open title has twice been claimed by a Scot at Royal St George’s, Jack White being the first to achieve the feat in 1904 before Sandy Lyle also did the trick in 1985.

The 149th Open begins on Thursday.

“It’s the dream when you’re growing up, to have a chance to win any major – but The Open especially,” admitted MacIntyre. “Two years ago I pitched up just trying to learn. This year I’ve earned my spot.

“I’m here to compete, not here to learn. Although I finished sixth in Portrush, I was doing everything I could to learn. This year I’ve proved that I can compete. So I’m certainly not here to make up the numbers.

“If I’m inside the top six coming down the back nine on Sunday afternoon, I’m going at it. I’ll lay it all on the line. If I do better than sixth, I’ll be walking down 18 with a smile on my face, regardless of the outcome.”

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The 24-year-old Oban man, who has successfully made the cut in all six majors he’s teed up in so far, has been paired with American duo Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele in the opening two rounds. He’s feeling tickety boo about that.

“Obviously it’s a late start for the first round,” he said of the trio being scheduled to get underway at 2.59pm. “But it’s a good draw. If I could have picked a draw myself, Xander would have been in there after last week (when the pair played together on the first two days in the Scottish Open).

“I get on great with him, I’m really comfortable with him. And Rickie is another good guy. It is a result to get drawn with guys who I’m comfortable with. It’s good when you get a nice draw.

“Xander was really chatty last week on the way round and, as you know, I could chat the ears off you if I really needed to.

“I played with Rickie two years ago at the Scottish Open, which was jumping into the deep end.

I was spooked by it a little bit, but we knew we had the crowd behind us, so it was the right place to do it. He likes a good chat on the way round, so that’s going to make me more comfortable.”

MacIntyre, who played with St Andrews-based Amateur champion Laird Shepherd in one of his practice rounds after being asked if he would mind doing that by Dean Robertson, already feels right at home on the game’s biggest stages.

“I feel so comfortable with the players now, the group I’m with,” said the world No 53. “It’s the elite end of golf. I’m not taking anything for granted but I feel like I belong.

“The nerves will kick in on Thursday morning, once I get up. I’m lucky with the late tee time that I’ll be able to eat breakfast. By lunchtime, I’ll be nervous so probably won’t have lunch.

“Nerves are there because I care. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be playing this game – or it would be boring. Nerves keep you on your toes, keep you focused.”

Due to heavy rain in the build up to the season’s final major, it’s a different golf course to the one MacIntyre experienced in the 2017 Amateur Championship at the same venue. “The rough is thick out there,” he reported.

“When I played in the amateur days, you could hit driver on every hole, almost. This week, there won’t be as many drivers as I was expecting. “Hopefully the wind gets up so you’ve got to move the ball and have to play links golf.”

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