BRADLEY Neil, the newly-crowned British Amateur champion from Blairgowrie, has predicted his painful introduction to major championship golf at Royal Liverpool will serve him well in the future.
Neil teed off in the first round of the Open alongside Mikko Ilonen of Finland and Matteo Manassero of Italy yesterday morning with hopes high that he could fare well. However, the 18-year-old quickly discovered just how demanding the very highest level of golf can be; he carded four bogeys and a double bogey in a traumatic outward half and reached the turn in 41.
During that harrowing run, the youngster had to contend with a misguided security guard picking up his ball - despite the fact that it was clearly still in play - and the embarrassment of putting off a green and into a bunker.
"At the second, I hit my ball a few yards from the fence and a security guard picked it up," he said. "I was gobsmacked. I thought at first it was maybe because it was OB. But then I realised if he had picked it up it must have been okay.
"The security guard thought he had done the right thing. But he was told off for picking the ball up and put it back where it had been. There was no penalty. Then at the fifth I putted into a bunker which was not a lot of fun. The line was quite tough. I was at the front of the green and there was quite a lot of slope. I had to take it on. But I didn't catch the putt, didn't hit it hard enough, and it took the wrong break and went into the bunker.
"I don't know if I've ever putted into a bunker. All I could do at the time was laugh. I might have had a different reaction if nobody had been there."
The Scotland internationalist, who performed above his tender years to land the Amateur Championship at Royal Portrush last month, deserves great credit for his exemplary conduct throughout his round of 79. Neil is mature enough to realise the experience will, hard as it was for him to bear at the time, prove hugely beneficial to his development in due course. "It was just tough," he said. "You are playing on one of the biggest stages and there is nowhere to hide. This is the first time I have been in the spotlight like this and it has been a learning curve. I will take a lot from it and move on.
"Inside I was tearing myself apart. But on the outside I had to be so careful. I could have made myself look bad to an awful lot of people if I had let what I was doing get to me. But I just take positives from it. It is a day to endure."
Neil enjoyed playing alongside Manassero and Ilonen, two former British Amateur champions, and was impressed with how they played on their way to respective rounds of 67 and 70. "Watching Matteo and Mikko on the front nine was brilliant," he said. "The number of putts they holed was amazing. I consider myself a good putter, but the number of putts they holed was something else."
The teenager will have to produce the performance of his life today if he is to survive the halfway cut and challenge for the silver medal that is awarded to the leading amateur who plays all four rounds. Two of his compatriots, Stephen Gallacher and Marc Warren, harbour loftier ambitions than making it through to the weekend after opening with sub-par scores yesterday.
Gallacher, who briefly found himself on the top of the leaderboard after a run of three birdies from the fourth, is the leading Scottish competitor after shooting a two-under-par 70. "It was good fun," he said. "I enjoyed it. The wind got up on the back nine and made it far trickier. Any time you shoot under par in a major you know you are doing not bad.
"It is something to build on anyway. I am looking forward to playing in the second round. I didn't drive the ball too well in my first round so there is room for improvement there.
"My game plan was good and my course management was good. I just have to iron out a few errant tee shots and I am sure that I can do well."
Warren, who finished third in the Scottish Open at Royal Aberdeen at the weekend, also started well in the calmer conditions and carded three birdies in the opening five holes. But he dropped back and finished with a 71. James McLeary (73) is handily placed, but Paul McKechnie (76), Paul Lawrie (79), Sandy Lyle (82) all have work to do.