Blairgowrie’s Bradley Neil cheered many across Scottish golf at the weekend when he held his nerve to gain his European Tour card for 2018.
The 21-year-old, who won The Amateur Championship in 2014 to highlight an impressive amateur career, secured the final top-15 place available in the Challenge Tour rankings to graduate to the main circuit.
The former Scottish Boys champion is now looking forward to an exciting season ahead… as our Q&A reveals…
Bradley, how does it feel to be a European Tour player?
BN: “It feels really good. It’s nice to achieve something you have been working a long time for. There is still a long way to go, but I’ve got the right team around me, I’m in the right frame of mind and full of confidence after this year. Hopefully next year I can go on to bigger and better things.”
What has the overall year been like, playing with a full Challenge Tour card?
BN: “It’s been a massive learning curve. Being able to plan the whole year for what events I’m going to has been a huge help. If you are at home, then you are working hard ahead of the next event. Being in position to win tournaments and coming down the last four events in a position to win a Tour card was obviously quite nerve-wracking. I had to try and deal with the pressure and still try and play my best golf.
“People underestimate the Challenge Tour, to be honest. It’s helped create guys like (Henrik) Stenson and (Justin) Rose and it’s a tough Tour to get off of. I had ups and downs the whole year. I missed nine cuts, but when I made the cuts I had a lot of top-25s and above. I feel I played well in some of the biggest events as well.”
How difficult was that final event in Oman, going in 16th in the rankings?
BN: “I didn’t mind the position I was in, as I felt the focus was on the guys projected to be in the top 15. I thought I could go out and play my best golf and see where it left me at the end of the week. Luckily, my golf was good enough.”
You are still only 21, having won The Amateur aged 18 and then endured some tough challenges in your early months and years as a professional. What has been the difference for you in turning things around?
BN: “I’m still young. I turned pro when I was 19. Getting into big stages like The Open and The Masters so early was quite tough. I faced challenges. My confidence was low in terms of performing, because in practice sessions I was great. The game can be very mental, between the ears, especially when you are trying to get through bad patches. I was putting in the hard work and always felt I have the ability, but it was going to take time.
“I’ve had good support around me. I’m very close with my family, close with my coach, Kevin Hale, and have a good management company, Excel, with the belief in me. Kevin has been with me since I was 14 and has always stuck by me. Getting a full card on Challenge Tour from Q School last year was great and it’s now fantastic to graduate as a full Tour player.”
You enjoyed an excellent amateur career. You must reflect well on the successes you enjoyed?
BN: “I was amazed when I was 12 and got into the Scottish set up for the first time. I was thrown into the Under-16 squad with (coach) Spencer Henderson, in with guys like Grant Forrest, Liam Johnston and Jack McDonald who at that time were the best players at that age in Scotland. I won the Scottish Under-14s twice, then the Scottish Boys and it was fantastic development for me being involved in the Scottish Academy, with two fantastic coaches in Spencer and Kevin Hale.
“I graduated to the Men’s squad and working so closely with Ian Rae helped progress my career a lot. That first year in Men’s golf was fantastic, with top-10 finishes and winning The Amateur. There are also areas such as physio, strength and conditioning etc which I learnt with Scottish Golf and you keep building on that. But my amateur career also had tough times and you learn from the lows as well as the highs.”
You have a Tour card in your back pocket, but I assume you keep your foot on the accelerator?
BN: “I can’t become complacent. The stage I’m on is only going to get tougher. I have to maintain what I’m doing, working on the right things. I’ve got a good team around me, I’m working hard and I’m building confidence every day. These are things I’ve learned since I started out aged 12.
“Overall , I think Scottish golf is doing okay at the professional level, but we can always improve. I think it’s fantastic that many of them are doing well, like Richie Ramsay, Marc Warren, Stephen Gallacher and others, on the main tour. Hopefully more guys come through from the final stage of Q School starting this weekend. There is a nice mix of young guys and more experienced Scots involved.”
What are your most looking forward to during the season?
BN: “I look forward to rubbing shoulders with the top players on a weekly basis. I have the confidence to try and compete with them, that’s what excites me. I played amateur golf with Paul Dunne and Matthew Fitzpatrick and these are guys I look up to. I’m obviously looking forward to the Scottish events next year, especially the Scottish Open at Gullane as I’ve not played in my national Open yet. It will be fantastic with friends and family coming along to watch.
“All the Challenge Tour top-15 guys deserve to be on the main tour as they have been through a season of golf against other tough golfers. I would say there are about 100 real quality golfers on the Challenge Tour that can be in the top 15. The standard is incredible. A lot of the winners this season were in the high teens, 20 under par or above. The standard is also getting better every year, as the satellite tours are getting better every year.”
Good luck for the forthcoming 2018 season, Bradley!