For two talented Perthshire professionals, the new year heralds one of opportunity. For Carly Booth, 2019 offers a year like no other. For Bradley Neil, it’s about a new Challenge.
Booth has a goal in her sights. September. Gleneagles. Solheim Cup. It’s the biggest team event in the women’s game. Another huge sporting occasion for Perthshire and Scotland as a whole.
Just as Stephen Gallacher stormed up the rankings to secure a place at the Ryder Cup on home soil back in 2014 over The PGA Centenary Course, Booth would love to do likewise. The fact the European captain is a Scot, Catriona Matthew, is simply added incentive.
“Literally – it would be a dream come true to get into the team. There’s nothing else I could say about that,” says Booth of the meeting with the USA. “I’d need to get off to a great start to the season so that’s all I can plan for. Winning gets you into things so that’s probably the mindset I need to have.”
Booth, a two-time winner on the Ladies European Tour (LET) in 2012, is still only 26 years young. After finishing 79th in the rankings last season, the Comrie girl knows she needs to deliver a big year.
Booth, who in 2009 became the youngest-ever Scot to qualify for the LET, added: “My hopes in 2019 are to win again on Tour and finish as high up as possible on the Order of Merit. The extra bonus would be earning playing rights on the LPGA for 2020.
“I had a poor start last year and finished fairly strongly where I had a couple of events where I was in contention but didn’t quite do it. I’m better than that and I have the ability to do better and I think I need to prepare a little better for each golf course and worry less about my swing.”
Neil is even younger, at 23. Having won The Amateur Championship in 2014, Neil achieved his European Tour dream last year after progressing from the top 15 on the Challenge Tour rankings in 2017. After a tough campaign, where he finished 191st in the Race to Dubai standings, it’s back to the second-tier. For the Blairgowrie player, it’s about rebuilding and regaining his confidence.
“At the end of a lot of weeks I would be disappointed, as I was working hard and then missing cuts,” says Neil of 2018. “I would then hit balls at the weekend, try to find confidence and then go to the next event. It wasn’t easy. This year I’m more mature and the experience I’ve gained has been invaluable on the main circuit.
“My driving and putting were really good last year, but what let me down were the short clubs, from 150 yards in. That was the main difference with other guys. I played with (Eddie) Pepperell and (Lee) Westwood and their short games were absolutely fantastic. One of my main focuses over the winter has been working on my short game.”
Neil is now using Stoke Park after moving south near London and also has a new coach in Fintan Bonner from the St Andrews Links Golf Academy. With the Challenge Tour season still weeks away, he is looking at mini-tour events to stay competitive.
“From where I finished at Q School, there are probably guys higher up the pecking order than me looking for (European Tour) invitations, so it just comes down to a wait and see,” he explains. “Everyone is wanting to play, but there is not that many events to play in.
“Right up to the first Challenge Tour event, I’ve just got to take what I can get really, there is mini-tour stuff I can do, like in Portugal. I was really confident after I won my Tour card, and had a lot of belief. The last year I’ve had a few knocks, but it’s been about getting in the gym, practicing and knuckling down.”
Booth is also south of the border now, based out of Manchester to aid travel. Yet neither player forgets their Perthshire roots.
Carly says: “It’s home, where I learned to play golf. A beautiful part of Scotland and more importantly a beautiful part of the world. There are so many great courses and the scenery is often spectacular and you can pick a course that is a challenge for every player.
“Comrie is still today my favourite 9-hole course and I love going back and playing with my brother (and fellow professional Wallace).”
Neil adds: “I started off with coaching at Blairgowrie and then we had county coaching at Gleneagles. It all grew from there. We had such strong competition in the area.
“The quality of golf courses definitely helped me improve as a player. It made me someone who wasn’t a one dimensional golfer. Playing courses like Craigie Hill certainly helped me learn how to play different shots.
“It’s all these little things and unique golf courses in Perthshire that helped mould me as a young player.”
Neil, who helped launch Golf Perthshire’s family initiative last Spring, continues: “For the elite golfers you have places like Gleneagles, Blairgowrie and plenty of others.
“For the golfers who are starting up, at places like Crieff, you have the wee course which runs alongside the main course.
“There is also the nine holes at Strathmore and Alyth has also taken over nine holes at Glenisla. There is such a great mixture at all of these clubs. There are so many nine-hole courses you can play to get started on in Perthshire.”
(Posted on Wednesday 16th January 2019)