WHEN it comes to hazardous occupations, being a touring golf professional is just about on a par with being a bandsaw operative at the nudist colony.

“What an insane job to choose,” suggested Bradley Neil. And we’re talking about playing pro golf here, not working industrial machinery in the scuddy. “You can put all the hours of the day in and still not make a cent at the end of it. But the rewards still outweigh the risks.”

In the risky business of the professional game, Neil has not yet earned the rewards of his young contemporaries like Robert MacIntyre or Ewen Ferguson, who are both now DP World Tour champions. At just 26, though, there’s time yet.

At Newmachar in Aberdeen this week, Neil will continue to chip away at the European Challenge Tour coalface when he competes in the Farmfoods Scottish Challenge.

He made his professional debut in a previous incarnation of this event seven years ago after a thrilling career in the unpaid game which saw him crowned Amateur champion at just 18 and play in The Open, the US Open and The Masters.

For us fickle old lot in the golf media, he was the best thing since a bloke took a knife through a loaf – we’ve said that about every emerging talent, of course – but Neil is still seeking fulfilment.

A stint driving a delivery van during the early days of the covid pandemic wasn’t what he had in mind but it gave him fresh motivation. Or a “kick up the a**e” as he put it. 

“I enjoyed it but it made me appreciate what I do,” he said. “I delivered to a couple of my old school teachers which was funny. I wasn’t the best pupil as I was always golfing. I’d knock on the door and they’d have that look that said, ‘I know you’. They knew about my amateur career and what I’d done but they must have been thinking, ‘so, why are you now delivering my shopping?’.”

Neil had one season on the main European circuit in 2018 after promotion from the Challenge Tour but it was a largely chastening experience. The mental wounds have taken time to heal.

“There’s still loads of scar tissue,” he admitted. “Confidence and belief can be hard to gain but so easy to lose. It all took a big toll. I remember being in Belgium at an event and I felt my prep was great. Then I shot five or six-over and went back to my room and just cried. I was so upset and frustrated with my golf. 

"It was the same at the Dunhill Links. By that point, I had no confidence in hitting the green from 70 yards. My short game was terrible, my putting had gone. I was in the players’ lounge sobbing. I was scared to work on my short game at events with people watching and other players working next to me. I practised next to Tiger Woods at the 2014 Open on the chipping green so you’d think I could do that next to anyone. But I couldn’t.”

Having signed with Paul Lawrie’s 5-Star management team, the company which is promoting this week’s tournament, Neil is hoping the canny guidance of the 1999 Open champion can steer him in the right direction.

“It was nice for me to know that he had faith in me and the belief that he could help me get to where he feels I should be,” added the former Scottish Boys’ champion. “He’s been there and done it. He knows the ups and downs of tour life.”

Four missed cuts on the Challenge Tour this season hardly makes Neil a form horse heading into this stop-off on home turf but, in this game of small margins and fluctuating fortunes, you never know when things will change for the better.

“The reason I’ve still got the hunger to get back to the main tour is to do myself justice, because I just didn’t do that in 2018,” he said. “Pro golf loses so many talented players for various reasons. They just don’t figure it out, they run out of money or whatever. I’m going to keep knocking on the door and hopefully it opens before I think to myself ‘is it time to do something else?’ I hope I get my chance again.”