HE SUMMED it up perfectly. “The whole week has been pretty surreal,” declared Blairgowrie’s Bradley Neil of his amateur dramatics in the Dunhill Links Championship.
Sitting at home on Tuesday night, the 17-year-old received a phone call from the organisers of the star-studded pro-am event asking if he’d like to step in as a replacement for rock singer Huey Lewis.
Even though the call had come at the end of a long and tiring season, it was a no-brainer for the Scottish Boys’ champion and the surprise opportunity became more appealing when he found he would be partnering Peter Uihlein, a former amateur world No 1 and rising professional star.
In the company of the American, Neil enjoyed a fairytale four days. At Kingsbarns on Friday, he watched from close quarters as Uihlein came within a whisker of carding the European Tour’s first 59.
He also stood a few feet away from Uihlein as the American sent his second shot straight into the hole at the 18th on the Old Course on Saturday to take a two-stroke lead into the final round.
Throw in the fact that Neil also played in the same group as Ernie Els, one of his golfing heroes, in one of the four rounds and it was an experience he will cherish and rightly so.
“Each day has got better and better,” admitted Neil after finishing in joint second in the team event on 38-under – two shots behind Essex-based investment banker David Sayer and his partner, Thomas Levet.
“It’s fantastic to be inside the ropes and watching it from a different perspective. I’ve managed to play some pretty good golf myself, which is obviously nice. The highlight was playing with Ernie and Peter and watching him nearly make history at Kingsbarns on Friday – that was pretty special. Ernie is a great guy and someone I’ve watched as I was growing up, so to be able to walk with him and speak to him about anything was fantastic.
“Ernie said to me, if your golf has got you this far, you must be going in the right direction and that gave me such a boost to hear that from such a world renowned player.
“I didn’t really feel nervous on the first tee. You’ve just got to soak it up and realise that, if I want to be serious about this, then I’ve got to get used to playing with guys I’ve looked up to my whole life and concentrate on my own game.”
Neil won the Scottish Boys’ Championship at Monifieth in April and was one of four Scots to make the Great Britain & Ireland Boys’ team for this year’s Jacques Leglise Trophy. This winter he is heading off to Abu Dhabi and South Africa with the SGU men’s squad.
“Stepping into the professional ranks is still far away,” he added. “Watching these guys this week showed me that there’s a lot of things I do that’s very similar to them but there’s a lot of things I really need to work on to get to that stage. I think you’ve got to grow up quickly. The last two years has been a major learning curve for me the whole time. Coming out of the juniors into the seniors stuff this year was massive being out of a small pond and realising there are so many other players out there and you really need to step up your game.
“When I turn pro is down to when I feel ready and the stats in my game compare favourably to the average tour pro.”
Standing behind the 18th green, Neil was still pinching himself as he came to terms with a week that had been played out in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
“The call came on Tuesday night when I was sitting in the house watching TV. I didn’t really sleep well that night because I was thinking about the week ahead,” he admitted
“Then the next day I found out that Peter was my playing partner, which was fantastic because he was the big amateur in the world when I was just stepping into that area. So in many ways he is the example to follow and it was just a fantastic experience to play with him.
“Had I not got the call I would have been doing gym work because the SGU’s winter training programme started this week and I’d probably have watched a bit of this on TV.”