Robert MacIntyre paid tribute to the European Challenge Tour after finishing his debut European Tour season in 11th place on the Race to Dubai Rankings Presented by Rolex, earning the Scot the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award and the Challenge Tour Graduate of the Year Award.
It has been a memorable maiden season on the European Tour for the 23-year-old as he secured three runner-up finishes and four further top tens – including a tied sixth place finish on his Major Championship debut at The Open Championship – and wrapped up the two awards with a share of 14th position at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
Going into the final event of the year, the Oban native was facing a battle with Kurt Kitayama, Guido Migliozzi and Adri Arnaus for the Rookie of the Year gong and his strong showing in Dubai sealed the deal, while also elevating him to a career-high 66th on the Official World Golf Ranking.
As he reflected on his incredible debut season, MacIntyre was in no doubt that the Challenge Tour provided him with the perfect start to professional life.
“The Challenge Tour was absolutely brilliant,” he said. “After missing four or five cuts early in the season, I started thinking ‘am I good enough?’
“I then changed a couple of things. Greg [Milne] came on the bag, and since Greg's been on the bag, we have made some mistakes, but we are both 23 years old. We're young and we're learning.
“The two of us learned our way on the Challenge Tour. We were down and out all the way until the second-last event on the Challenge Tour. We were sitting in 34th place, and then we had an unbelievable event in China, which catapulted us up into top 15. We held on in the final event and now here we are.
“The Challenge Tour has made me the player I am today. I've learned how to travel on my own, I've learned how to just spend time in my own company, so it couldn't have been better.”
There are several highlights from MacIntyre’s 2019 season, including that top ten at Royal Portrush, as well as playing in his first World Golf Championships event and going toe-to-toe with some of the world’s best players on numerous occasions.
Those moments have helped MacIntyre feel he belongs among the elite and getting to know former World Number Ones, Ryder Cup stars and Major Champions has become part and parcel of his growth on the world stage.
“The first hole of the Scottish Open, I mean, I could hardly tee the ball up,” he said. “That was probably the time where I realised that I can play with these guys. Playing with Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, that calmed me down.
“I went out there in the final round in Dubai and played with Justin Rose, I played with him in the WGC event in China, and you're starting to get to know guys on a first-name basis and they know you, which is a cool thing.
“Hearing them say ‘Well done, Bob’, they are treating you like you're meant to be there, and that's a huge part of feeling comfortable.”
One man whom MacIntyre singles out as a guiding figure throughout the year is Bernd Wiesberger. The Austrian came out on top of a thrilling final day fight with the Scot at Made in Denmark presented by FREJA – one of Wiesberger’s three wins in 2019 – and since then, friendship has blossomed between the pair.
“Probably since the battle in Denmark, Bernd has become someone that I can talk to,” he said. “His caddie, Jaime Lane, is someone that Greg's become really close to, so it's been good.
“The two of us have been able to ask questions. Before the week begins, Jamie will give some inside info to Greg and to me. Both of them are all-round great guys, and Bernd, I can't say anything bad about Bernd. He's been a huge part of what I’ve done this year.
“Every week that I'm up there in contention, I'm looking at leaderboards, and I'm seeing Bernd Wiesberger chasing me down, and it's been a good battle with him.”
MacIntyre was presented with both awards during a press conference following the conclusion of the season-ending event in Dubai, where European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley congratulated the Scot on his achievements and reiterated the importance of the Challenge Tour to emerging young golfers.
“I would just like to congratulate Robert on what was a brilliant first year on the European Tour,” Pelley said. “I think we all agree that he is not only a spectacular player and with seven top tens - he had a year worthy of receiving both these awards - but he's also an incredible young man off the course, as well, and it's a testament to his upbringing. We look forward to watching Robert excel on the global stage.
“There is no doubt Robert comes from a country that is rich in history. He is the tenth winner of this award, and also the fact that he has won the Challenge Tour Graduate of the Year Award shows how important that particular tour is to his development.”