It was the biggest day of his professional career to date. As he left the 15th green during the final round at the NBO Golf Classic in Oman, he glanced up at the leaderboard and realised he was within touching distance of achieving his dream of reaching the European Tour.
Blairgowrie’s Bradley Neil had, up until that point, no idea of how he was looking with regards to his placing on the Challenge Tour Order of Merit. All he knew was that if he finished the final tournament in the top fifteen places, he’d receive his full European Tour card and would be rubbing shoulders with some of the best golfers in the world.
A birdie at the 16th was followed up by a three-putt at 17 – meaning the 22-year-old went down the final hole having to make sure he didn’t drop another shot.
“I had an idea that I was close but I didn’t know the significance of that final hole at the time,” he told me, “but despite that when I stood over the putt at the last I was incredibly nervous.”
Having missed a putt of a similar length at the 17th, the youngster was feeling the pressure but managed to compose himself and sink a five-footer that was enough to secure qualification to play alongside Europe’s elite in 2018. I had an idea that I was close but I didn’t know the significance of that final hole at the time.
“Even after coming off the 18th, I didn’t know, nobody knew. It was very close. When I got to the tent and put my scorecard in, I looked at the projected fifteen and I was in the final place. The two players I had leapfrogged had finished, so they couldn’t catch me. However there was still one player on the course who could, Tano Goya.
“He was about €5k behind me in the Order of Merit, but if he finished the final five holes two-under-par, he would’ve finished high enough to knock me out of a qualification spot.
“I was incredibly nervous. I remember trying to force myself away from the action to have some food with my dad and his two friends who were over watching me, but I couldn’t stomach it. I had to get back down to the tent and keep an eye on it.”
Goya couldn’t make the late charge he needed and it meant that Bradley Neil was confirmed as the first Perthshire golfer to qualify for the European Tour since Brian Marchbank in 1979.
It was a moment that he was delighted to share with his dad, who was understandably emotional and proud of his boy. Celebrations would come but from the moment his place on the European Tour was confirmed, Bradley’s attention was already focused on the first event in Hong Kong – taking place just three weeks after that massive moment in Oman.
“It was difficult,” admits Bradley, “you’re coming off such a high and all you want to do is get home and celebrate with everybody who has played a part in the success. I’ve had so much support in my career and I wanted to share the moment with everyone.
“I had about a week at home before I realised it was time to get ready to get back out on the road. I was off to Hong Kong, then South Africa, and I was absolutely knackered but to be honest the buzz of being there helped me through.
“I was happy when the Christmas break came around though because it gave me a chance to recharge my batteries.”
Six months into life on the European Tour, Bradley has now had time to adapt and get to grips with his new surroundings.
“One thing I’ve noticed is the standard of the courses,” he said, “don’t get me wrong there are some fantastic courses on the Challenge Tour as well but the European Tour is just a completely different level.
“I’ve been on the European Tour for six months now and the time has absolutely flown by. The strength in depth in every field is staggering which makes getting the top 5s and top 10s even more difficult.
“I feel my game is maturing though. I’m only 22 so I know I have a lot to learn about my own game still but competing at the higher level has definitely helped to bring my game on.” I’ve been on the European Tour for six months now and the time has absolutely flown by. The strength in depth in every field is staggering.
When you look at Bradley's current position in the Order of Merit, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s been a tough start to life on the European Tour for the Blairgowrie man. The fact is, it’s still early days and when you consider that he’s in a similar position to established players such as Graeme Storm and 2016 Masters winner Danny Willett, then you realise just how strong the competition is.
Bradley isn’t worried and believes he’s doing the right things which will help him to peak at the business end of the 2018 season.
“I’ve been working really hard to put everything into place to kick on for the rest of the year,” he told me, “I’ve had my caddy in place for 12 weeks now and we’re really starting to gel which is a massive bonus.
“Off the course, I’ve changed things body-wise with my physique and nutrition which I’m hoping will start to bear fruit as well. I think all of the aspects of my game are starting to marry up now.
“I’m not worried because historically over the years I’ve always started to peak at the beginning of the summer. Take the Challenge Tour last year for example – at this stage of the season I was sitting outside the top 80 in the Order of Merit and my best finish was tied eleventh.
“I put together back-to-back second place finishes at big events and rocketed up to fourth in the rankings! That’s how quickly it can change. So far, I’ve just not been able to perform consistently over three or four rounds but I’m confident that will come.
“I take a lot of confidence from the position that Marc Warren was in last year. He was sitting in a similar position to where I am just now with only a few weeks remaining. It looked like he was going to struggle to retain his Tour card.
“He ended up having some good finishes in some of the big tournaments at the end of the season, and ended up just outside the top 60, comfortably retaining his card and narrowly missing out on the Race to Dubai finals.
“It shows that it is possible and it can happen. It’s all about picking the right moments to peak and find form.”
Despite admitting he’s only shown glimpses of what he’s capable of so far, Bradley did put together an impressive performance at the Open de España where he found himself in contention going into the final round.
He was paired with Englishman Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston for the final eighteen and although it didn’t work out as Bradley had hoped, he believes the experience of being involved at the business end of a European Tour event was invaluable.
“I think in the end I’d have needed to shoot eight or nine-under-par to have won the event,” he said, “which wasn’t impossible but would have been a tough ask. A top five or top ten finish was definitely on the cards though.
“It was a really frustrating day for me because I actually hit the ball very well tee-to-green. I just couldn’t make a putt all day. I gave myself loads of chances but nothing dropped.
“You learn a lot from your failures though and hopefully, when I find myself in a similar position on the final day in the future, I can use the experience to help me see the weekend out. Playing alongside Beef was a real eye-opener as well! He has fans all over and he is incredibly popular.
“Playing alongside Beef was a real eye-opener as well! He has fans all over and he is incredibly popular. To go round with him in a competitive final round was completely new to me. I had to try and switch off and focus on my own game because he attracts big crowds and they make the sort of noise that you see at the Ryder Cup – it was something else!”
One of Bradley's most recent outings was the Volvo China Open and after missing the cut, he darted home to be part of a brand new event on the Scottish Junior Golf scene, and cheer on a close family friend to victory at Blairgowrie Golf Club.
“I came back as quickly as I could from China so I could be part of the event. It was amazing to be there for the inaugural Barrie Douglas Scottish Junior Masters – an event that celebrates the life of a man who did so much for my career.
“It made it extra special that we had a Blairgowrie winner but not only that, it was Gregor Graham – who is like a younger brother to me.
“Our families are really close so it was great to watch him win. It was incredibly nerve-wracking watching to be honest! I think I got a feeling of what my dad and Gregor’s dad go through when they’re watching me.
“It was a fantastic tournament and one that everyone was saying is the best junior event in Scotland. Hopefully it remains a fixture on the schedule for many years to come and it would be great if it could return to Blairgowrie Golf Club every year.”
It’s been an incredible rise for Bradley since his days as a youngster playing at his local club. He’s a man who has never forgotten his roots, and is always looking to give something back to the game of golf.
He has been supporting Golf Perthshire’s drive to become the world’s most family-friendly golf destination and hopes it will inspire people to get involved in the sport. He was also recently named Perth and Kinross Sports Personality of the Year for a second time, an award which means a lot to him and his family but also highlights how highly regarded he is in the area.
With a big six months ahead of him, the 22-year-old will be hoping to make great strides before the end of his first year on the European Tour. And if he can turn those glimpses of brilliance into something more regular, the sky is the limit for the Blairgowrie boy.
To keep track of Bradley’s progress over the next six months, follow his social media channels via the links below.
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