The sparkle in his golf that was there as an amateur has gone for the moment, but he is confident it will return. Those words appeared in a piece for Scotland on Sunday in May 2016. Rarely in my time covering golf have I been so happy that a statement has been so conclusively backed up and, boy, should Bradley Neil be applauded for that.
Make no mistake, as we sat chatting during the Turkish Airlines Challenge at Gloria Golf Club for that interview, Neil was in a dark place after seeing his professional career get off to a sticky start. That event, in fact, marked just his second cut in the paid ranks and they’d been made 10 months apart.
“I’m sure people viewing my situation from the outside will be looking at my results and say I turned professional too early [as a 19-year-old in June 2015] and think I’ve become a worse player over the past ten or 11 months,” admitted the Blairgowrie player at the time.
“But I would look at it completely the opposite way. I definitely feel my game is better than it was a year ago. I also feel a lot more knowledgeable about my own game and the game in general. I think it’s a case of just not having adapted yet to the professional game.”
Bearing in mind those words came from a 20-year-old, they were impressive then and even more so now. Neil, after all, has well and truly adapted to the professional game. His new status as a European Tour player is proof of that and it’s no wonder that his success in graduating from the Challenge Tour this season has been met with such wide acclaim within the game. So many people could see for so long that Neil had all the attributes to reach this point.
“I knew from the minute I first saw him play that Bradley has got the bottle,” said Stephen Gallacher as he recalled a practice round the pair played together at the 2014 Open Championship at Hoylake. “It takes a lot of balls to finish in the top 10 in the Grand Final when he needed to and that will stand him in unbelievable stead. He’s got the game. Him and Grant Forrest. They both hit the ball miles and it’s a long game now.”
Unlike too many others, not just in Scotland, who have turned professional over the past decade, Neil won title after title as an amateur, including victories on both Scottish and English soil before claiming the Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush in 2014.
“You need that winning mentality,” added Gallacher. “That’s why my uncle Bernard told me to go out and win everything before I turned pro. Some guys develop that habit later than others. But I think it helps when you come through the right process and I think the guys coming off the Challenge Tour and earning their stripes there these days have similar traits. I think the last two years on the Challenge Tour have helped Bradley a lot.”
Bearing in mind that Neil is the youngest Scot to secure a main Tour card since Richie Ramsay achieved the feat at 25, it really is a terrific boost for the game in this country, and it’s not only the Perthshire player’s ain folk who are delighted for him. Justin Rose’s warm words of praise for his stablemate over the weekend were very sincere indeed, while American Peter Uihlein was equally pleased for Neil – and with good reason, too.
Uihlein partnered Neil, who was still an amateur at the time, in the 2013 Dunhill Links Championship.
Suitably impressed, the European Tour Rookie of the Year that season 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. “He helped me make that money, so I felt it was only right to give it back,” said Uihlein, speaking at the conclusion of the Turkish Airlines Open in Belek, as he recalled that kind gesture.
“I’ve seen him a few times since we played together when he was getting invitations and to now get a European Tour card at the age of 21 is awesome. He’s a good player. He’s a strong player. He hits it far and has a good short game.”
Now that his confidence has come flooding back, exciting times lie ahead for Neil and there is really nothing to suggest that he can not get himself in the mix at his new work place.
“There’s a big difference between the Challenge Tour and the European Tour, but he’ll be fine as he is a good player,” predicted Uihlein. “It’s a long season out here and you are going to have peaks and valleys. It’s not getting too down on yourself when you are down and trying to keep it rolling when you have some momentum. Keep the pedal down and keep it going.”