From the high of join­ing the Euro­pean Tour to the low of los­ing his card, it’s been a hard year for the former Am­a­teur cham­pion, hears Nick Rodger

The Herald on Sunday - - SPORT -

AT this time of the year, as things get as dour as the Sphinx’s face and the days shorten to the length of a de­spair­ing sigh, it is not easy be­ing a golfer who has just lost his Euro­pean Tour card. With the 2019 sea­son al­ready un­der­way in Hong Kong, you just want to be in amongst it and not sit­ting twid­dling your thumbs and re­flect­ing on what might have been.

“It’s so tough as this time of the year, es­pe­cially look­ing at the so­cial me­dia posts of play­ers who are out in Hong Kong and say­ing how great it all is,” said Bradley Neil. “That was me a year ago, go­ing through the same thing.”

Twelve months on, Neil is back to square one on the Chal­lenge Tour. Hav­ing earned pro­mo­tion to the Euro­pean Tour through the Chal­lenge Tour rank­ings in 2017, the 22-year-old from Blair­gowrie set out on the main cir­cuit with his spir­its roused and his con­fi­dence high. By the end of a try­ing, mind­man­gling cam­paign, Neil’s morale had taken such a dunt he just about needed a panel beater to re­pair the bat­ters and clat­ters.

The former Am­a­teur cham­pion fin­ished in 191st place on the Race to Dubai rank­ings and, to com­pound the mis­ery, his bid to re­gain his tour card shud­dered to a pre­ma­ture halt as he failed to progress past stage two of the qual­i­fy­ing school process.

“You could say the men­tal side of things were put through their paces this year,” he said with a wry chuckle. “The sea­son was nowhere near what I wanted – 191st? In my worst night­mare I wouldn’t have thought that’s where I would fin­ish. I had so much be­lief and con­fi­dence that I would have a good sea­son, that I’d be keep­ing my card and maybe chal­leng­ing for a win. I didn’t think the sea­son would go the way it did. And the times I thought it might be turn­ing around, it seemed to get ru­ined by an­other bad round. The con­fi­dence kept get­ting knocks through the year. In the last event of the sea­son when I knew I’d lost my card I was so, so down. I took that feel­ing into qual­i­fy­ing school and that af­fected me there too.”

A per­fect ex­am­ple of turn­ing the cor­ner and then crash­ing into the metaphor­i­cal brick wall ar­rived at the Span­ish Open when Neil sat in 10th place head­ing into the clos­ing round only to plum­met down to 62nd with a crip­pling 77. He was also go­ing along nicely in the flag­ship BMW PGA Cham­pi­onship at the half­way stage but slith­ered down the or­der over the week­end. In this cut-throat busi­ness, you have to seize the chances that come along.

“A cou­ple of de­cent fin­ishes there could have changed my en­tire sea­son,” he re­flected. “When things are not go­ing well, the small things that go against you be­come big things in your mind. Men­tally I wasn’t strong enough this year. I couldn’t deal with things, even small things, go­ing wrong and the fact that the sea­son wasn’t turn­ing out the way I wanted.”

Neil may be down, but he is cer­tainly not out. He is still young and he has a year of tough ex­pe­ri­ences be­hind him. What doesn’t kill you and all that. His dec­o­rated sta­ble­mate in the Ex­cel man­age­ment team, Justin Rose, missed the first 21 cuts of his pro ca­reer … and things have worked out not too badly for him.

“He had a ter­ri­ble start but that now seems like a dif­fer­ent life­time,” said Neil. “The best play­ers take the big­gest knocks but have the big­gest come­backs. I’m not in that league but there is plenty of time for me to es­tab­lish my­self. This time last year Bob Mac­In­tyre and Liam John­ston [his Scot­tish col­leagues] didn’t even have Chal­lenge Tour cards and now they are on the Euro­pean Tour. It shows how quickly this game can turn around with hard work and a lot of be­lief. I have to look at it like that. Golf has not done me in yet.”

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