DVLA or R&A? Driving around Forfar or Hoylake? “A no-brainer,” declared Bradley Neil.
He was scheduled to sit his driving test yesterday. Instead, he was standing on the putting green in front of the Royal Aberdeen clubhouse being grilled by some Scottish scribes. “The highlight of my day,” he quipped.
Neil, the 18-year-old Amateur champion from Blairgowrie, is used to “walking past guys like (Scottish team-mates) Grant Forrest and Graeme Robertson” at tournaments.
He may be one of the 156 competitors in the 143rd Open Championship on Merseyside but, at times so far this week, he’s found it difficult to concentrate.
“Here, it’s Adam Scott and Tiger Woods, guys like that, and I’ve found myself needing to pinch myself,” he admitted. “It’s incredible to think I got in here, and much earlier than I ever thought. I was like ‘hold on, hold on, there’s Tiger, let’s just stop and watch him walk past’. Everyone wants to see what he’s doing. I want to see him, too. I stop what I’m doing.”
Over the past two days, Neil has played with two of the top three players in the world. Yesterday, it was third-ranked Justin Rose; on Monday he went out with the game’s No 1, Adam Scott.
He explained how the latter had come about. “I was only supposed to be playing with Paul Dunne, who is the other Irish amateur, and Shane Lowry. We organised that through Shane’s coach [Edinburgh man Neil Manchip],” said Neil.
“But, as I was standing on the tee watching Darren Clarke tee off, I saw Steve Williams coming through the tunnel towards us. I was thinking: ‘Steve Williams caddies for Adam Scott guys’ but I thought he’ll probably be playing in a one ball behind us.
“But he knows Shane obviously a lot better than us two guys and said: ‘Is it okay if I join up with you?’ We were like: ‘You’re the world No 1 – you can do whatever you want’.”
A few holes into their round, Scott apologised to Neil for not knowing that he was the Amateur champion. “He actually said sorry to me — that was incredible,” admitted the young Scot.
Scott has already offered to play with Neil again in a practice round at next year’s Masters — another of the perks he’ll enjoy after winning the amateur game’s blue riband event at Royal Portrush last month.
The Australian’s coach, Brad Malone, also offered the young Scot some words of wisdom. “He told me to manage my time really well,” revealed Neil, who will have two former Amateur champions — Italian Matteo Manassero and Finn Mikko Ilonen — for company in the opening two rounds.
“He told me Adam has very few sponsors, so he doesn’t have to do much away from the course. He said I would be in big demand over the next year so I should manage myself well.”
Neil was “probably playing in a junior medal” when Woods won the last Open here in 2006. He recalled collecting autographs and golf balls when the Scottish Open was still at Loch Lomond. He was sitting in the stands at the 18th when Louis Oosthuizen claimed the Claret Jug at St Andrews four years ago.
Now he’s enjoying the greatest week of his life, one that he was happy to put other things on hold for so that he could savour the experience.
“I was actually due to sit my driving test in Forfar,” he revealed. “That would have been a massive step in my life as well, but I think you have got to put that on hold for something as massive as this.
“You can’t exactly phone up the R&A and ask them to put this back a week. It’s easy enough to get my money back from the DVLA, I can’t refund my place at The Open for next year. So that was a no-brainer.
“I also had a holiday planned with my girlfriend’s family this week. I was supposed to be going to Portugal on Thursday. But I’m having to miss part of that, which they completely understand.”
Neil partnered American Peter Uihlein in the Dunhill Links Championship last year. Suitably impressed, Uihlein donated the £10,000 he picked up for their efforts in finishing second in the team event to the Scottish Golf Union to help with Neil’s development.
“Playing with guys like Peter, Ernie Els and Joost Luiten in the Dunhill will help me loads to get a feel for things this week,” he admitted. “But I was a bit more comfortable in the Dunhill because it was just the amateur side of things for me. This week, I’m competing for myself.”
While not short of confidence, even Neil was taken aback when he clicked on a website to see the headline on an interview he’d given in the build-up to the event. ‘I can win The Open’, it roared.
“It wasn’t the way I said it,” he declared in trying to rein back. “I said ‘everybody wants to win this week and I’m one of them’. There’s a difference between thinking you can win and knowing you can win. Guys like Tiger know they can win. I’m just thinking it would be awesome to win.”
That also applies to the Silver Medal, which he’ll be competing for this week along with three other amateurs – the aforementioned Dunne, Englishman Ashley Chesters and Cheng-Tsung Pan from Chinese Taipei.
“To win that would be a dream come true,” admitted Neil.
“Everything seems a bit surreal right now and I don’t think I will ever come down from cloud nine until all of it is over and I play my way into this event as a professional,” he added.