ONE of Bradley Neil’s endearing qualities is that he says what he is thinking. It meant he delivered an honest assessment of a week that started with him playing a practice round with the world No 1 but ended with bitter disappointment once the gun went off. “I need to give myself a right kick up the arse after this,” he declared, having just signed for a second-round 79 to comfortably miss the cut on 13 over par.
After his opening 78, the 19-year-old from Blairgowrie had posted on Twitter that he probably needed divine intervention to be around with Rory McIlroy and co for the weekend. “I’m not a big believer in God, but if there is someone up there, please tell them to send down an under-par round! I beg you,” he wrote on the social media site. He quickly found out, though, that the plea had gone unheard. From the trees on the left of the first fairway, he found the heart of the green, only to three-putt from around 25 feet. It was the first of four such three-stabs on the front nine. In the opening round, Neil had been third in longest drives. He clearly has the length for modern-day professional golf. He still has a lot to learn, though, about what it takes to perform on stages like this. Following a booming drive at the 13th, he came up short with his approach and was lucky not to find the creek. Par was salvaged there but the next brought a second double-bogey of the day.
He saved his best until last, finishing with a flourish by playing the 18th in textbook fashion to make a three. There are plenty of players who’d take that there over the weekend. Unfortunately, Neil will spend it licking his wounds before finding himself back down to earth when, with all due respect to the Scottish amateur circuit, he finds himself lining up in the Battle Trophy at Crail.
“It’s been a great learning experience but very tough,” confessed the Amateur champion. “Every time you get to play with the world’s best you’ll take something away. This is where I want to be in a few years’ time. I just need to keep working harder. I’ve prepared well for this, but this shows it’s not been enough. I just need to work harder on what I’ve got.”
Sandy Lyle, the 1988 winner and one of Neil’s playing partners for two days, will be back next year. Neil has a mountain to climb if he’ll be here again so soon in his professional career – it’s likely to start after a US Open appearance in June, but he’ll certainly be giving it his all. “I’m very jealous of him [Lyle] as he gets to come back every year,” said Neil. “That’s something I want to do in the future. I think I’m good enough to get back here, I think I have the game to do that.”
Neil also suffered an early exit from last year’s Open Championship at Hoylake. This one hurt more, though. “I’m disappointed with the last two days – I’ve done worse here than I did at the Open,” he said. “I thought this would suit me better than the Open.
“My season has been disappointing so far. Last year I found it easy on the amateur scene, but now I need to work my socks off. There are no excuses.”
The good things from the week? “I made it here,” he replied in a flash. “Some people work their whole lives to get here but only get to watch it on TV. I’ll take a few polo shirts home, but it’s the memories that will stay. I have a lot of them. Everything is stored up here [pointing to his head].”
After being around for the weekend the last two years, Lyle also made a premature exit on this occasion following a 76 that left him on six over. His hickory putter didn’t behave well enough over two days. “It’s a Tad Moore putter but I wish it had been a tad less,” he said with a smile. “I was threatening at one stage to put it on the barbeque and I’m sure the hickory would have added a nice flavour to my steak. I don’t enjoy missing the cut but that’s part and parcel with this course. Whether you’re in or out is always very close either way. But I thought my game was in pretty good shape so I’m happier coming away from it than I was at the start of the week.”
On Neil, the two-times major winner added: “He started to hit the ball well in the last few holes. He was saying to himself ‘where has that been all week?’ But it was simply because he had relaxed. He gives the ball a fair old toink, but it’s all about putting the ball in the hole. On a course like this, it’s nice to have the power but you’ve got to have the skill factor as well.”