IN these times of rampant progress it appears we are going backwards.

Take dining out, for instance. Have you noticed that if you order a certain nosh-up in one of those so-called rustic eateries, your culinary cumulation is now plonked in front of you on an oak platter or a bit of slate?

Good grief, even medieval serfs, whose idea of a decent feed was a marinated woodlouse washed down with a thimbleful of their own tears, were given a proper plate. Give it a few months and the latest dining craze will probably see us scavenging around on the restaurant floor like a pack of shrieking hyenas ripping away at the mouldering carcass of a wildebeest.

Loading article content

At least the fare being served up in Scottish amateur golfing circles is slightly more palatable. This time last year, the menu was fairly modest as the nation's leading male players struggled to whet the appetites of eager observers in a series of major events on the international amateur scene.

The end result of a campaign of underwhelming mediocrity on the individual front - Scotland's men did paper over the cracks by reaching the final of the European Team Championship - was that no Scot was called up to the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team. It was the first time that had happened since 1949 and it prompted much teeth gnashing and harsh words.

A year on, and things are much healthier. Bradley Neil's victory in the Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush capped a profitable week for the Scots in which Connor Syme reached the semi-finals and Jamie Savage made the last eight. A Scottish team also won the European Cup of Nations earlier in the campaign, Savage won the Irish Open and Grant Forrest beat Neil to the St Andrews Links Trophy a fortnight ago.

Of course, the very nature of the amateur game means that fortunes will always fluctuate in this cyclical process which can be hampered by too many players turning professional too soon.

Neil is certainly in no rush to make the pro plunge, and why would he? With invitations to July's Open and next year's Masters and US Open - as long as he remains an amateur - there is plenty to look forward to and plenty of experiences to be gained. Then again, many have maintained that you have to strike when you're hot in this game if professional ambitions are to be achieved.

He may be a rookie on the senior amateur circuit but Neil has taken the step up in his stride and has consistently been at the sharp end of affairs in some of the season's biggest events, both in the strokeplay and, now, the matchplay formats. The 18-year-old's stock is rising rapidly and you wouldn't be surprised if some of the country's big-hitting management companies are sniffing around him.

Neil is very much his own man, though, and he has a drive and determination that makes him a quite exceptional, yet level-headed talent. He doesn't lack in confidence - some may read his well-structured, media friendly words and say there is an arrogance, but it is all channelled into the right places and he continues to produce the performances to back up his purposeful declarations.

That kind of belief, and the ability to achieve his aims, is a much sought after quality in this unpredictable pursuit. The SGU performance committee, led by Steve Paulding and Andrew Coltart, have been outspoken in their questioning of the work ethic of certain Scottish players over the past few months.

In the modern amateur game, those involved in well-funded programmes have never had it so good. Neil is using what's available to him, but he's also doing that extra bit more and that is the kind of disciplined approach that will have Coltart and Paulding beaming like Cheshire cats at a milk tanker spillage.

His preparation for the Amateur Championship illustrated this meticulous, measured outlook. "I went over in March and played both courses," he said. "You see the amount of preparation the pros put in for major championships and if you want the rewards that this game can offer you need to do that. You need to put in the time and make sacrifices. I knew what I could do on both courses and it reaped the rewards."

Here in Scotland, we are always looking for our own 'big thing' and in a truly global game of astonishing strength in depth they don't come along very often. The burden of expectation is a heavy one to bear, but then Neil has high expectations of himself. Hopefully, there is much more to come.


In the turbulent journey from child star to superstar, Michelle Wie has been put down, written off and clobbered by the critics. At 24, she is finally a major champion, having won the US Women's Open to complete her rise from the doldrums. Interestingly, that was the same age a certain Annika Sorenstam won her first major crown - and she went on to capture 10. The sky is the limit for the reborn Wie.