BRADLEY Neil believes he’s been handed a timely boost for his return to the event that gave him a taste of the big time.
Two years ago, when he was a 17-year-old amateur, Neil joined forces with American Peter Uihlein to finish second in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship team event.
So impressed was Uihlein by his young playing partner that week that he donated his prize money to the Scottish Golf Union, asking for it to be specifically channelled towards Neil’s development.
Boosted by the experience, the Blairgowrie player duly came out the following season to win the Amateur Championship then represent Europe in the Junior Ryder Cup at his home club.
After playing in both The Masters and US Open this season, Neil turned professional rather than waiting to see if he could make the Great Britain & Ireland side for the Walker Cup at Royal Lytham.
Since joining the paid ranks, he’s made only cut in nine appearances split between the European Tour and Challenge Tour.
But Neil, who has received an invitation for the £3.3 million event at Carnoustie, Kingsbarns and St Andrews, has a bounce back in his step after comfortably passing his European Tour Qualifying School first-stage test at Collingtree Park in Northamptonshire last week.
“It’s not nice when you’re working hard and week in and week out it isn’t happening for you,” he admitted. “So to finish under par for each of the four rounds was a real boost.
“Nobody else did that and making scores when it matters is what it’s all about in the professional game.
“The way I was playing I don’t even think I’d have been a definite to get in the Walker Cup team. I was practising at home that weekend, and I didn’t watch it. I’m glad it’s past now because now I can properly move on.
“The way the last few months have gone, you think ‘did I make the right decision?’ But it (the Walker Cup) is two days. When I look back I know 100 per cent I made the right decision. I’ve learned so much in the last few months.
“My experience of playing on the Challenge Tour and the main Tour has given me a head start.”
Uihlein had a chance of shooting a 59 - he eventually signed for a 60 - in his second round at Kingsbarns two years ago and only lost in a play-off to Englishman David Howell.
“It was a brilliant atmosphere two years ago,” recalled Neil. “To be in a final group in a European Tour event at 17 was incredible.
“I can still remember things like the shot I hit on 17 and the walk down the last. Hopefully I can use memories like that to play good golf this week.
“I’ve seen quite a bit of Peter over the last year. My mum and his mum are still friends. A lot of good things came from that week. It’s good to see him here again.
“To finally get to play a big event as a pro in Scotland will be really special for me. It’s great to get an invitation.”