Bradley Neil’s breakthrough year as a professional golfer will reach another milestone this week as he takes part in the European Challenge Tour’s prestigious Rolex Trophy.
The Scot enjoyed a glittering amateur career, capped by winning the Amateur Championship in 2014, but struggled to make the transition to paid ranks until this year, which has seen him come close to a maiden Challenge Tour title on several occasions.
This week’s tournament has an exclusive 42-man field and Neil, currently sixth in the Road to Oman Rankings, is delighted to be a part of such a prestigious event, which is a pro-am for all four rounds, at Golf Club de Genève.
“It’s really exciting,” said the 21 year old. “Just being in the city of Geneva is quite spectacular and this place is just incredible – the course is a different prospect to what we’re used to on the Challenge Tour, it’s quite a short course but it’s one that tests every aspect of your game.
“There’s 42 guys here this week who all deserve to be here and if you win this tournament you know you’re beating the best the Challenge Tour has to offer.
It's very exciting - there's only 42 guys here and you know if you win, you're beating the Challenge Tour's best
“It’s definitely a milestone in the season, a target to get into the Rolex Trophy. My main target at the start of the year was to get into the top 45, so my main aim for cementing that was then to get into this event.
“To achieve that is obviously very nice and there’s been some rough spells, even throughout just my season – even though I’m sixth in the Rankings there have been some bad weeks, some missed cuts, so hopefully I can keep the good results coming from now on.”
Back-to-back runner-up finishes in July were followed by a fourth place result in Northern Ireland two weeks ago, where Neil lost in the semi-finals of ‘Shootout Sunday’ as the tournament became a six-hole match play contest for the final day.
Now approaching the business end of the season, the all-important top 15 in the Rankings – who will secure European Tour cards come November – are taking on ever greater significance, and Neil knows a good performance this week will go a long way to securing his position.
“Any time you’re making those kind of cheques on this tour, you’re going to be jumping up spots,” he said. “It was a good week in Northern Ireland, a lot of fun, and even though it was disappointing how it ended, to be top four was very good and has taken me up here in the Rankings.
“It’s very bunched now – I’m only about 10,000 points off third place but also only about 10,000 points from 14th or 15th. A good finish from any of the guys, which is very doable given the standard of the top 15, can move you further away from the pack.
“The aim obviously is to catch Julian Suri and Aaron Rai at the top of the Rankings because if you do that you’ll move away from the bunch.”
Neil’s Amateur Championship victory earned him exemption into three of golf’s biggest events, The Open Championship, The Masters Tournament and the U.S. Open.
The experience of playing on those highest stages will, he hopes, prepare him well for the pressures of the upcoming big events on the Challenge Tour, starting this week, while his past performances at events with a similar format hint that he could be set for another good performance in Geneva.
“I think winning the Amateur was fantastic for me and my career,” he said. “All the glory and the accolades that came with that, playing the three Majors, has obviously given me a different experience.
“I’m obviously not going to experience anything like that again until I hopefully get back to those tournaments, but it does prepare you for getting through all these big events – this is a big event in the Challenge Tour season.
“There are a number of big events coming up, especially in the context of the season and the Rankings, so having played in some really big events, it gives you a feeling for how to deal with big occasions – I think I’ve learned how to do that and not get overawed by it all and hopefully I can keep going well.
I've got experience of this type of event - I feel very lucky to be part of such a special tournament
“I’ve played the Alfred Dunhill Links and I’ve played the Dimension Data on the Sunshine Tour which is the same format, so I’ve got experience of this type of event.
“It’s good for the Challenge Tour to give these things back to the sponsors, the golf club for putting on such a fantastic tournament for us, and I actually enjoy playing pro-ams, having a bit of a chat with them, so hopefully that can work in my favour this week, plus my experience of similar events.
“I think if you can stay relaxed it helps you play better, but it’s obviously a very important week because it can propel you towards the top two, and I feel very lucky to be part of such a special tournament.”
The strongest field of the Challenge Tour season has assembled for the Rolex Trophy, with Joel Girrbach returning to home soil for the first time since sealing a breakthrough maiden victory at the Swiss Challenge presented by ASG in June.
He is joined by Ryan Evans, now up to fourth in the Rankings following top ten finishes in each of his last four events, and Clément Sordet, who only secured his spot in the field with victory at the Viking Challenge last Sunday.The tournament begins tomorrow, with the first round seeing two professionals partner two juniors, before the final three rounds are played with each professional partnering three amateurs.