Bradley Neil tips young Scottish pros to make breakthrough
Bradley Neil believes the success of both himself and Connor Syme in securing European Tour cards in their early 20s can be the start of Scottish golfers beginning to hit the ground running in the professional ranks on a regular basis.
As Neil prepared to make his first appearance as a main Tour card holder in this week’s UBS Hong Kong Open, the 21-year-old from Blairgowrie spoke of how he feels confident that a new initiative involving Scottish Golf and Edinburgh-based management company Bounce Sport will reap rewards in years to come.
Through that, leading amateurs are being handed Challenge Tour starts and already they have proved beneficial to the likes of Grant Forrest, pictured, who enjoyed an encouraging first full season in the paid ranks on the second-tier circuit, and Robert MacIntyre, who won on his second start as a professional in a MENA Tour event in Kuwait and has now secured full playing privileges for the Challenge Tour next season.
“We always seem to produce top-quality amateurs and people do find it hard to understand why players then don’t hit the ground running as pros,” said Neil, referring to the fact that a decade’s worth of Scottish talent had been lost in the transition phase until he and Syme, who has just won his card at 22 at the Qualifying School, gave the game a huge shot in the arm through their recent achievements.
“There’s obviously something going on that isn’t being addressed because the same thing has been happening for the last ten years. But I think maybe now, with the affiliation Scottish Golf has with Bounce Sports, amateurs are going to have a better chance when they do turn pro.
“Getting players on to the Challenge Tour as amateurs before they turn pro is a massive step forward. Nothing is handed to you on that circuit. You don’t have courtesy cars waiting for you at the airport, so you have to make your own way to the golf course, and, believe me, that sort of thing is helpful.
“I think guys coming through now are better prepared for pro life as they’ve had some experience in professional events. The guys coming through also aren’t scared. They know they can compete. They don’t take it for granted. They all work really hard. Bob MacIntyre, for example, is testament to how hard you have to work at the game. He’s from a small club [Glencruitten in Oban] but hasn’t let that stop him securing a full Challenge Tour card for his rookie season.
“Even though Scottish Golf is going through a bit of turmoil, I think they should give themselves a huge pat on the back for how well they have helped myself, Grant, Connor and Bob.”
Neil was 11th on the reserve list for this week’s opening event on the 2018 schedule when he secured his step up to the main Tour as a Challenge Tour graduate but ended up getting into a field that has Masters champion Sergio Garcia, new European Tour No 1 Tommy Fleetwood and Olympic champion Justin Rose spearheading it.
It’s by no means his first European Tour appearance, having played in a few events both as an amateur, then a rookie pro, but the big difference now is that he is stepping on to big stages with his confidence restored after rebuilding it over the past 12 months.
“Out in Turkey, I was a bit down and it was incredible actually how resilient I came across at that time,” he said of an interview with this correspondent during the Turkish Airlines Challenge in the opening half of the 2016 campaign. “It wasn’t long before that I’d miss the cut in the final stage of the EuroPro Tour Q School, then missed two cuts in a row on that circuit. It is amazing how far I have come since then.”
The former Amateur champion, who has done some fine- tuning with his coach, Forest of Arden-based Kevin Hale, since finishing in the top ten in the Challenge Tour Grand Final in Oman to earn his seat at the top table in European golf, added: “Since turning pro, I feel I have really matured a lot. My attitude is now strong week in, week out. I don’t really know when I turned the corner, but I often think back to the SSE Scottish Hydro Challenge at Spey Valley in 2016. My tee-to-green game had let me down a lot up until then but that week it started to come really good.
“From then on, I took that same sort of form into the remainder of the events that year and I was feeling really good about my game when Tour School came around. Good performances started to come quite regularly after that. As I said out in Turkey, I never fell out of love with the game. I have always loved being out there competing. I didn’t have much confidence in the way I was performing for a while, but I knew that I had an amazing ability to play the game.”
After Hong Kong, Neil plays in the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open, where he is set to be joined by Syme, before the pair then tee up in the Joburg Open along with Forrest and also double Scottish Amateur champion David Law.
“There are going to be some events, the likes of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, for instance, that I might find myself waiting to get into tournaments. But, once we hit mainland Europe, I should be okay in terms of getting regular starts,” said Neil. “There have been some changes to categories and hopefully getting into events like the BMW at Wentworth, Irish Open and, of course, Scottish Open will be confirmed a lot quicker than they have been for players in my position in the past. When I do get in, I have to take my chance.
“I have learned a lot from the past year about getting into contention. It is a completely bigger pond on the European Tour. The strength in depth there is incredible but I have major confidence in my ability and, if I can continue to improve, I can hopefully be challenging and certainly not just making up the numbers.”
Nothing is about to change off the course. “I am pretty fortunate having Blairgowrie as my base and what I’ve been told by others is to not change anything, whether it be coach, physio or equipment,” he said.
“I’ve been told by the likes of Stephen Gallacher and Scott Henry to stick with the things that have got me to the European Tour and just improve them. They said it is important that I feel comfortable, no matter where I am playing.”