Why rejuvenated Michael Stewart deserves to share spotlight with Bob MacIntyre
Maybe the good guys do win, after all. From a Scottish perspective, that certainly seemed to be proved over the past few days as Bob MacIntyre and Michael Stewart both landed sweet title triumphs.
In lots of ways, MacIntyre’s DS Automobiles Italian Open win was easily the more significant of the two, but I’m sure the Oban man won’t mind sharing the spotlight in this particular column with Stewart.
The Ayrshireman looked destined to be the player in MacIntyre’s shoes as he came through the amateur ranks with a bit of swagger that, in fairness, wasn’t really out of place as he racked up numerous title triumphs.
They included the Scottish Boys, Scottish Amateur and South African Amateur while he also played on a winning Great Britain & Ireland team in the 2011 Walker Cup at Royal Aberdeen, where the US side included Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay.
Stewart was signed up by ISM, joining the likes of Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke and Louis Oosthuizen in Andrew “Chubby” Chandler’s stable of players after turning professional and a bright future beckoned. Or so it seemed.
“I was very naive at the time as I just thought that getting a European Tour card was a natural progression if you played good golf as an amateur and that would be me set up,” admitted Stewart on reflection. “But it’s not as simple as that.”
After chiselling away on third-tier tours for six or so years without any success, the Troon man made the breakthrough in the paid ranks when winning on the Mediterranean Tour in Egypt in 2019, having been close to walking away from his beloved game just prior to that.
“I don’t want to say I was in a dark place as I wasn’t,” he recalled. “It was just a case of maybe accepting that I might just not be good enough to progress.”
It may have taken a bit longer than the likes of MacIntyre, David Law, Ewen Ferguson and Grant Forrest, but, at 32, Stewart is indeed good enough to be moving up the ladder.
Having capped a consistent run of form by winning the Eagle Orchid Scottish Masters at Leven Links last Friday, he’s secured a Challenge Tour card for next season through the PGA EuroPro Tour money-list, where he now sits third in a battle for five berths.
He’s also through to the second stage in the DP World Tour Qualifying School and, if he can go on to secure a seat at the top table, it will all be down to one man - Bothwell Castle-based PGA professional Alan McCloskey.
“Massive,” said Stewart of his contribution. “He’s taken on more of a mentoring role. Yes, he’s a golf coach, but he’s also a psychologist at times, he’s a mate. Alan has installed so much belief in my game. He kept me grounded and stopped me from thinking ‘this is where I could be or should be’.”
Both playing and winning on Paul Lawrie’s Tartan Pro Tour helped Stewart get a bit of momentum going and, though certainly not getting ahead of himself, he’s understandably excited about what now lies ahead.
“The goal is not to be a good player on the EuroPro or Challenge Tour. The goal is to be a great player on the DP World Tour and make a living,” he declared.
“I look at Richie Ramsay, who has been on tour for so long. David Drysdale, god knows how long he’s been on tour. Scott Jamieson, Marc Warren, Stevie Gallacher, these are guys you aspire to be as a Scottish player.
“My mate Davy Law, what a player he’s turned into. Grant, Ewen and Bob as well. These are guys that are all really inspiring and hopefully this is a stepping stone for me to join these guys and I’ve got a long career ahead of me.”
A flood of praise, which was a mark of him as a good human being, was led by Law. “We’ve been close mates since we were young, so fingers crossed we are out on the DP World Tour together next year,” he said.
Which takes us nicely back to MacIntyre, who well and truly silenced his critics by coming out on top in a gunfight with Matt Fitzpatrick and Rory McIlroy on the outskirts of Rome to land his second success on the main circuit.
Yes, it had been a frustrating season for the Oban man and his small army of fans, but every single player encounters a dip in form occasionally and no-one had been more frustrated by that than MacIntyre himself.
It was all about staying patient as he worked his socks off with a new coach, Simon Shanks, and trusted what he was being told by his performance manager, Stuart Morgan, and bingo.
In one fell swoop, the left-hander delivered the big win lots of people had been looking for from him and the way he did it - storming to the turn in the final round in 29, shooting the low round of the week with a 64 and then beating US Open champion Fitzpatrick with a birdie at the first extra hole in a play-off - was hugely impressive.
He’s jumped 42 spots to 68th in the world rankings and is up to 15th - three places behind two-time 2022 winner Ferguson in the DP World Tour Rankings.
Right now, the odds of at least one Scot being on Luke Donald’s Ryder Cup team next year look very promising indeed, especially with MacIntyre having tasted victory on the Marco Simone course staging that contest.
But that alone won’t be enough and MacIntyre will need to keep his foot to the pedal, get back in the world’s top 50 in time to secure a Masters spot next April and continue to use the biggest stages to show why so many people in the game hold him in such high regard.
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