Golf: Bradley Neil aims to make home advantage count

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BRADLEY Neil, the late replacement for Grant Forrest after his withdrawal from the recent European Team Championship, is now aiming to claim his title by cashing in on home advantage in the Fairstone Scottish Amateur Championship starting today at Blairgowrie.

It’s the first time the SGU’s flagship event has been held at the Perthshire venue and has come at an opportune time for Neil as the 17-year-old bids to complete a notable double after winning the Scottish Boys’ Championship at Monifieth in April.

Hazlehead’s David Law achieved that rare feat four years ago and, having taken that last-minute call-up in his stride by winning all three singles matches as Scotland reached the final in Denmark, Neil is a worthy seed for this week’s matchplay event. “I guess there will be a little bit more expectation on me to do well,” admitted the leading host club hope, though Glenn Campbell, the winner at Southerness eight years ago and out in the first tie today, will also be quietly fancying his chances of enjoying another prolonged run in the event.

“I obviously know the course and that may well help, but a lot of the top players have played national events at Blairgowrie in the past. I’ll have home support, but so, too, will other guys from the club like Glenn Campbell and he is one to watch,” Law added.

Although he’s just been overtaken in the World Amateur Golf Rankings by Graeme Robertson, Forrest defends his title as the top seed but has history stacked against him as Charlie Green, who achieved the feat exactly 30 years ago, is the last player to have made a successful defence of this crown.

Forrest was unable to emulate Green’s feat of claiming the Silver Medal as leading amateur in the Open Championship, but, nonetheless, the Craigielaw player enjoyed his first taste of a major at Muirfield, where he played with former winner Mark O’Meara for two days.

“It was a wonderful experience, something that I want more of, and I have to keep pushing to improve,” said the University of San Diego student ahead of an opening tie with Lanark’s Jamie Lamb.

Robertson, Scotland’s leading candidate to make the Great Britain & Ireland side for a Walker Cup defence later in the year, takes on Glenbervie clubmate Cameron Buist in his first match and will be aiming to reproduce the matchplay form with which he won all six matches in last year’s Home Internationals.

Making up the eight seeds are Jack McDonald (Barassie), Danny Young (Craigie Hill), Scott Borrowman (Dollar), James Ross (Royal Burgess) and Adam Dunton (McDonald), the list not containing Ewan Scott, last year’s Scottish Youths’ champion, due to the fact he has opted to miss the event as he prepares to start college in America.

In an event where shocks are almost guaranteed, Paul Lawrie’s oldest son, Craig, will be hoping to make his presence felt, as will Home International hopeful Scott Crichton, who warmed up for his title bid by just missing out on a 59 at Aberdour, his home club, on Saturday.

Twelve years after winning the title, Haggs Castle’s Barry Hume is bidding to turn back the clock, having returned to the amateur circuit earlier this year after playing twice in the Open Championship during his spell in the professional ranks.

A field of 256 players, balloting at a handicap of 1.3, sets out on the 7,007-yard Lansdowne Course over the next two days as the event is played under the Fairstone Financial Management banner at the start of a three-year sponsorship.

“We are delighted to be sponsoring the Scottish Amateur Championship, the SGU’s flagship event and one of the most prestigious events in amateur golf,” said managing director Lee Hartley. “Our company is very passionate about supporting golf and we are looking forward to the next three years of association with the event.”