Robert MacIntyre flying Scotland flag solo at Open but feels little pressure

There are 27 different national flags fluttering on the grandstand surrounding the 18th green here at Royal St George’s to illustrate the global entry of the 149th Open Championship. 

The saltire is up there billowing in the breeze but, with just one Scotsman in the 156-strong field, you half expect it to be drooping at half-mast.

The country that gave golf, and The Open, to the world will have its lowest ever representation in the history of a championship that dates back to 1860. In this covid-age, the Scots seem to have socially distanced themselves from the game’s most cherished major. Except for Robert MacIntyre, of course.

Lumbered with the kind of hefty weight on his shoulders that Atlas used to prop up, the 24-year-old will carry the burden of a nation’s hopes and expectations. Not that he’ll be bothered by that.

With a passionate rallying cry that you might have heard on the turf of Bannockburn, MacIntyre eagerly embraced his role as the standard bearer.

“When you come to an Open and you’re the only Scot, you’re fighting for the flag,” he roared. “I just love the Scotland flag. It’s in the blood. It’s Scotland through and through.”

He’ll be after Nicola Sturgeon’s job at this rate. The job this week is a mighty one and a task MacIntyre is relishing. The Oban left-hander shared sixth on his Open debut at Portrush two years ago and hasn’t missed a cut in the six majors he has appeared in.

For a debutant, that sixth place finish in 2019 set the bar high. Now, a little bit older and a little bit wiser, the former Scottish Amateur champion is keen to better that feat.

“Two years ago I pitched up just trying to learn,” said the European Tour winner and current world No 53. “This year I’ve earned my spot. I’m here to compete, I’m 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 do better than sixth, I’ll be walking down 18 with a smile on my face, regardless of the outcome. It’s the dream when you’re growing up, to have a chance to win any major, but the Open especially. 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.”

MacIntyre’s last experience of the rigours of Royal St George’s was in the 2017 Amateur Championship. With its undulations, thick rough and blind shots it remains a formidable test. “Where I grew up playing golf, I don’t mind blind shots the majority of the time,” said MacIntyre of those formative years at his quirky, fun-packed home course of Glencruitten. “Until there’s a 25 mile-an-hour cross wind that is. Then we’ve got a problem. The rough is thick out here. When I played in the amateur days, you could hit driver on just about every hole. This week, there won’t be as many drivers as I was expecting. It’s going to be a good test, especially if it firms up and gets faster.”

MacIntyre will enjoy a lie in before a 3pm tee-off in the company of the American pair of Rickie Fowler and Xander Schauffele. “If I could have picked a draw myself, Xander would have been in there after last week,” he said of the world No 3 with whom he played with at the Scottish Open. “I feel so comfortable with the players now and the group I’m with. It’s the elite end of golf. I’m not taking anything for granted but I feel like I belong.”

A late opening day tee-time allows MacIntyre an opportunity to see how those ahead of him are faring, how the course is playing and what tactics could be employed. “My caddie will probably watch it more than me for little tips and get as much of an advantage as we can,” he said of some early television reconnaissance.

There’s an added benefit of an afternoon start for MacIntyre. “I’ll be able to eat breakfast …but by lunchtime I’ll be nervous so probably won’t have lunch,” he said. “Nerves are there because I care. If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t be playing this game. Nerves keep you on your toes and keep you focused.”

As the lone Scot in The Open there will be plenty focused on MacIntyre too.

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