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Bradley Neil takes a step back towards The Open as he moves on from regional qualifying

Bradley Neil played in the 2014 Open at Hoylake after winning the Amateur that year.
Bradley Neil played in the 2014 Open at Hoylake after winning the Amateur that year.

Bradley Neil still has the belief from those who support him and in himself, and has a fighting chance of making the 150th Open eight years after his last.

The former Amateur champion from Blairgowrie safely negotiated the first stage of qualifying for St Andrews next month, at Panmure in Barry.

His three-under 67 meant he didn’t have to sweat on a play-off in the evening heat. He and nine others progressed through to final qualifying next week at Fairmont St Andrews.

The odds to make The Open are huge

Just ten of the 125 competing at a fiery and golden Panmure went on to next week. Just four from 140-odd will make the championship from next Tuesday’s 36-hole qualifier. The odds are huge, but there are some Scots through capable of making the unlikely trip through from regionals to the Old Course.

Sandy Scott, the outstanding amateur from Nairn, led the way at Panmure with a brilliant five-under 65. Neil, the St Andrews New Club’s John Paterson and Drumoig-based amateur Alan Berrington all progressed with three-under 67s.

For Neil, the last month has seen a marked improvement in form that is encouraging him that recent tough times could be behind him.

“I don’t think my game has ever been away, it’s just the mental struggles have been crazy,” he said after an eagle three at the 14th had highlighted a “scrappy” round.

“You see your peers do so well, Bob (MacIntyre) has  been lighting it up for the past couple of years and now Ewen (Ferguson) is doing so well.

“Grant (Forrest) and Calum (Hill), Connor (Syme), you feel you should be there with them. I was on tour before but I don’t think I was ready when I was there.”

Those struggles have been manageable thanks to the support of those close to him.

“You’ve really got to lean on the people around you,” he continued. “I’ve got an incredible girlfriend I’ve been with for ten years and her family, let alone mine, have been outstanding..

“They’ve all been incredibly supportive.I’ve leaned on them a lot these last few years.”

‘I played with flair’

He’s now focusing on trusting in his instinct, as he aims to get back to the Open for the first time since Hoylake in 2014.

“When I was younger and won the Amateur I just played, with flair and purely freewheeling,” he said. “Guys like Bob and Ewen can play like that now because they have their exemptions and they have that freedom.

“Right now I’m sort of ‘fake it until you make it’ but I have to believe I can achieve the things I want to achieve.”

The qualifying format was an easy one to freewheel. Due to calculations from qualifying sites across the country, players struck out without any knowledge of where the qualifying cut might fall.

In the end it was 10 men at Panmure, but Scott, now 23, had long left no doubt with his 65. He narrowly missed out on US Open qualifying in a play-off last month, so is hoping for one better in next week’s final stage.

“That was the start of some good golf for me,” said the US-based player. “A 25-foot putt on the last here was a nice way to finish. Playing well at Lytham in the Amateur last week got the juices going again in links golf, and it was pretty breezy there as well.”

Sandy’s finally back where he wants to be after a rough couple of years. He planned to turn pro in 2020 but Covid intervened, and then a serious wrist injury threw his plans off kilter again.

‘I can play and that’s the most important thing’

“It was rough time for about a year and a half with the injury,” he said. “I still have to manage what I’m doing and be aware of it. But I can play and that’s the most important thing.

“My career did go on hold for a bit. I have had to be pretty patient, but I’m happy with every decision I’ve made.”

Paterson’s aim is to be the first St Andrews-based player in an Open on the Old Course for many years.

“It would be really cool to play in an Open at St Andrews,” said the former Scottish Boys’ winner, after a birdie at the last assured he would take a step closer.

“I played really well today, and it should be a bit more open in Final Qualifying over 36 holes as opposed to just 18 here.

“I think I’ll turn pro in the next year or year and a half, but I don’t know exactly when. I’ll just try and get some good results in the meantime.”

Seven players tied at -2 for the final five qualifying spots, and former European Tour pro Peter Whiteford was one who progressed from the play-off. Fellow Fifer Liam Duncan (Dunnikier Park) and Portlethen’s Ben Murray and also came through.

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