AT this time of the year, as things get as dour as the Sphinx’s face and the days shorten to the length of a despairing sigh, it is not easy being a golfer who has just lost his European Tour card. With the 2019 season already underway in Hong Kong, you just want to be in amongst it and not sitting twiddling your thumbs and reflecting on what might have been.

“It’s so tough as this time of the year, especially looking at the social media posts of players who are out in Hong Kong and saying how great it all is,” said Bradley Neil. “That was me a year ago, going through the same thing.”

Twelve months on, Neil is back to square one. Having earned promotion to the European Tour through the Challenge Tour rankings in 2017, the 22-year-old from Blairgowrie set out on the main circuit with his spirits roused and his confidence high. By the end of a trying, mind-mangling campaign, Neil’s morale had taken such a dunt he just about needed a panel beater to repair the batters and clatters.

The former Amateur champion finished down in 190th place on the Race to Dubai rankings and, to compound the misery, he failed to progress past stage two of the qualifying school process as his bid to regain his tour card shuddered to a premature halt.

“You could say the mental side of things were put through their paces this year,” he said with a wry chuckle. “The season was nowhere near what I wanted; 190th? In my worst nightmare I wouldn’t have thought that’s where I would finish. I had so much belief and confidence that I would have a good season, that I’d be keeping my card and maybe challenging for a win. I didn’t think the season would go the way it did. And the times I thought it might be turning around, it seemed to get ruined by another bad round. The confidence kept getting knocks through the year. In the last event of the season when I knew I’d lost my card I was so, so down. I took that feeling into qualifying school and that affected me there too.”

A perfect example of turning the corner and then crashing into the metaphorical brick wall arrived at the Spanish Open when Neil sat in 10th place heading into the closing round only to plummet down to 62nd with a crippling 77. He was also going along nicely in the flagship BMW PGA Championship at the halfway stage but slithered down the order over the weekend. In this cut-throat business, you have to seize the chances that come along.

“A couple of decent finishes there could have changed my entire season,” he reflected. “When things are not going well, the small things that go against you become big things in your mind. Mentally I wasn’t strong enough this year. I couldn’t deal with things, even small things, going wrong and the fact that the season wasn’t turning out the way I wanted.”

Neil may be down, but he is certainly not out. He is still young and he has a year of tough experiences behind him. What doesn’t kill you and all that. His decorated stablemate in the Excel management team, Justin Rose, missed the first 21 cuts of his pro career … and things have worked out not too badly for him.

“He had a terrible start but that now seems like a different lifetime,” said Neil. “The best players take the biggest knocks but have the biggest comebacks. I’m not in that league obviously but there is plenty of time for me to establish myself. This time last year Bob MacIntyre and Liam Johnston [his Scottish colleagues] didn’t even have Challenge Tour cards and now they are on the European Tour. It shows how quickly this game can turn around with hard work and a lot of belief. I have to look at it like that. Golf has not done me in yet.”