There aren't many teenagers who can say they've lived their dreams, or at least one of them, before they turn 20, but that's exactly what Amateur champion Bradley Neil will be able to do this coming April when he makes his Masters debut.
"Obviously, I’m really excited," Neil tells bunkered. "To play in it will be one of the biggest achievements of my life. I’m excited to try and do better on the big stage. I didn’t fare too well at the Open so hopefully I can show how well I can play and go on to make the cut.”
The Blairgowrie teen has already accomplished a great deal in his time in the game, with 2014 proving to be his best and most exciting season to date.
Ticked off the list were achievements including playing in the Junior Ryder Cup at his home club; experiencing success with Scotland and Great Britain & Ireland on the international stage; and, most notably, becoming the first Scot in ten years to lift the Amateur Championship trophy when he defeated South Africa's Zander Lombard in the final at Royal Portrush.
That win in Northern Ireland is the reason Neil has been invited to play in the Masters, as well as going on to play in the US Open at Chambers Bay later in the year.
Thanks to his status as Amateur champion and his appearance as part of Europe’s Junior Ryder Cup team last September, Neil has been able to have conversations with a number of the world’s top players. Several of them have been passing on their knowledge of Augusta National and he plans to make full use of their expertise.
“I’ve had advice from Scott Jamieson, who went to university out there and has played the course a few times. His caddie, Richie Blair, told me a few things as well so I’m getting as much advice as I can.
"To tee it up with Tiger would be pretty cool because he’s an idol of mine" - Bradley Neil
“I’ve spoken to Stevie Gallacher and he’s said to give him a call closer to the time and I spoke to a few of the guys like Rory and Justin Rose at the Ryder Cup, so guys have been feeding me little bits of knowledge.
“Their take on things is world-class. They’ve got everything noted down to a tee. For them to pass on little bits of knowledge, it’s very kind of them."
He adds: “I was supposed to play a practice nine holes with Tiger Woods, but that was set up through his old coach, Sean Foley, so I don’t know where that sits now. To tee it up with Tiger would be pretty cool because he’s an idol of mine. He was my hero growing up and he still is now.
“I was able to ask Rory and Justin as well, so I’ve just been trying to sort out a practice round with them and seeing if it's possible.”
As with all amateurs who are invited to play in the Masters, the Augusta National Board has offered Neil the chance to stay in the renowned Crow’s Nest accommodation in the clubhouse. It’s an offer he plans to take up, before spending the rest of the week living with people he is used to being around.
“I think it was something that was too big and I couldn’t turn down,” he admitted. “I’m going to stay there for at least one of the nights earlier in the week, just to say I’ve done it. Then I’ll go and stay in accommodation with family and friends so I’m around people I’m comfortable with for the week.”
One thing that shines through when Neil discusses the tournament is how passionate he is to be a part of the Masters and to experience all of the great traditions it has to offer.
“I suppose the traditions and all of the events you can take part in throughout the week are what’s different about the Masters compared to any of the other majors," he says. “They’ve got a load of nights for the amateurs who are playing. Most of them are dinners, I think, but on top of that there’s also the champion’s night and the past champion’s dinner.
“There’s everything in the golf club as well, like the locker rooms and the trophy room. It’s just going to be really cool to see it and it’s something I never thought I’d get to see up close.”
In terms of his preparation for the tournament, Neil says competitors are allowed to spend up to five days playing the course before the week of the tournament, and that’s time he plans to use wisely to get to know it better.
He has already combined a two-day trip to Augusta with his participation in the Jones Cup in January, and he’ll use his other three days in the two weeks before the tournament when he goes back to Atlanta to play in the Georgia Cup, another tradition that comes with winning the Amateur Championship.
When the tournament finally arrives, Neil plans to be fully focussed on his golf, but he is also looking forward to meeting ‘the greats of the game’ and thinks that is another of the many special parts of playing in the Masters for the first time.
“It’ll be really good because guys like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, people I’ve grown up watching and was watching when I started in the game, will be playing.
“There are younger guys like Rickie Fowler, McIlroy and Spieth that I’ll get to play alongside, too. It’s great that so many different generations of the game will be there.
"At least one amateur seems to make the cut each year. So finishing as low amateur is an aim of mine"
“Sandy Lyle still plays in it, as does Larry Mize and so many other past Masters champions. Then there are the honorary starters on the Thursday. There are so many things as well as playing the tournament that I’ll get to be a part of and I’m looking forward to it.”
And when it comes to his performance, winning the Silver Cup for finishing as the lowest scoring amateur for the tournament is, not surprisingly, a major goal.
“This is the one tournament that they get together the most elite amateurs, the best amateurs in the world, and there’s not many can argue that it's the best six amateurs playing the game at the time.
“Obviously, the world rankings will show some disagreement, but in terms of the championship winners, they’ve gained entry into the field by winning one of the six best amateur tournaments in the world.
“You know if you’re top of that, then you’ve played well that week. At least one amateur seems to make the cut each year. So finishing as low amateur is an aim of mine.