Neil warned against being seduced by Masters aura

Bradley Neil of Scotland watches a shot during a practice at Augusta National. Richie Ramsay, below
Bradley Neil of Scotland watches a shot during a practice at Augusta National. Richie Ramsay, below
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Richie Ramsay reckons there’s one golden rule for amateurs at Augusta: Don’t be a rabbit caught in the headlights.

The Capital-based European Tour star played in The Masters in 2007 as a reward for winning the US Amateur Championship the previous year.

It was an experience he’ll always cherish, even though he failed in his goal to make the cut, which he missed by four shots following rounds of 76 and 80.

Now Ramsay will be watching with interest as his young compatriot, Bradley Neil, also tees it up in the season’s opening major later today, in his case as the Amateur champion.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for an amateur and I’m sure Bradley will get a good draw, which is nice,” said Ramsay, the recently-crowned Hassan Trophy winner.

“It’s nice to be there and soaking it up as a player, but it is also good to be in one of the marquee groups. That makes it ten times better as the crowds will be bigger and if you hit a good shot the roar echoes through the trees.

“It’s eight years ago now – time flies quick – since I was at Augusta, but I’ve got really good memories, even though I didn’t do myself justice.

“I don’t really know Bradley that well. I don’t know therefore if it’s a course that will suit him or if his attitude will be suited to an occasion like this. But it is something that you would think will bring out the best in any golfer. You have to try and focus on the job at hand and not get distracted by the beauty of the place and aura of the tournament. You don’t want to be a rabbit in the headlights at Augusta.”

Neil, a 19-year-old from Blairgowrie paid an early visit to the Georgia venue to try and get the “wow factor” out of the way before tournament week. He was back for a few more practice rounds recently while his preparation has also included playing in the Georgia Cup – an annual 18-hole match between the Amateur champion and the US Amateur title holder.

“Going early is important to take the danger of getting over-excited in the event itself out of the equation,” added Ramsay.

“It’s also good that he’s had the Georgia Cup to play in. The speed of greens at the two courses will be similar and there’s a massive difference between Scotland and Georgia at this time of the year.

“When it comes to 25-30 feet putts you’ve got to hit them more here whereas it’s more of a stroke on bent grass greens.

“You need to be able to get used to that, especially when putting can make or break you on a course like Augusta.”

Determined to be making the drive up Magnolia Lane again himself one day, Ramsay is urging Neil to stick with a gameplan and not allow himself to gete tempted by some of the pin positions.

“You can get away on certain holes with a lot from the tee and I think that’s been illustrated by some of the people that have won it,” he said, referring to the fact that Bubba Watson, the defending champion and winner twice in the past three years, can often be wayward with his driver. “But around the greens you need to be pretty sharp. You need to know where to miss it, what are the flags to attack and what are the ones for holding back. It’s about having a plan and sticking to it. Don’t get flustered and change anything.”

One of the perks of getting to play at Augusta as an amateur is staying in the on-site Crow’s Nest, though Ramsay reckons that can also have a downside.

“I stayed in Crows Nest a couple of nights and that was really good – It’s something I will always remember,” he said. “I stayed in a hotel the rest of the time and think I got the best of both worlds. My goal was to try and make the cut so by staying in the hotel I felt I gave myself the best chance rather than being at the course 24/7.”