A year ago, the standout line on Neal Shipley’s resume might well have been the quantitative finance degree–with minors in math and economics—he earned at James Madison University.
Move over, academics. Make room for golf. As in, the Lebo native is expected to play in the Masters Tournament and the U.S. Open next year.
He finished as the runner-up at the U.S. Amateur Championships in a field of 312 in August during a gangbusters summer for him in the sport. That’s not only as impressive as it sounds, but it also earned him a presumptive spot in the Masters and the U.S. Open as an amateur.
Yes, the prestigious tournaments where we have watched Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson over the years.
“Those are two opportunities, to play those as an amateur, that will be once in a lifetime for me. I’m pretty excited for it,” Shipley said.
A Central Catholic High graduate who grew up on Altadena Drive, Shipley transferred from James Madison to Ohio State, where he is a member of the Buckeyes’ men’s golf team as a graduate student.
At the NCAA individual championships in May, Shipley was in second place going into the final round but slipped to 29th after a catastrophic finish. That was a springboard, however. Leading up to his second-place finish at the U.S. Amateur, Shipley finished second at The Dogwood Invitational, the Sunnehanna Amateur and the Trans-Mississippi Amateur Championship.
“Yeah, definitely a breakout summer on the amateur golf scene,” he said. “I always knew I was a good competitor, but to play the way I did over the entire summer was really, really cool.”
Shipley is in his final year of college eligibility at Ohio State. After the Masters and U.S. Open at Pinehurst next year, he hopes to turn pro.
“That’s a long journey, but I’m really excited to take that next step,” he said.
It’s a journey that started when Shipley joined the Thursday morning junior league at the nine-hole Mt. Lebanon municipal course. He had played on Lebo travel teams in other sports, but golf emerged as his muse. So his family joined St. Clair Country Club and that became his home course. He also has caddied at famed Oakmont Country Club.
To look at Shipley and hear he’s an Ohio State athlete, football might be the first guess. He goes about 6 feet 2 and doesn’t necessarily fit the golfer type, whatever that is. As of the start of the school year, his hair was nearly shoulder length.
But football never appealed much to him. “You have to have a little bit of a mean streak to play football. I really don’t possess that,” he said. “I definitely stand out on the golf course. I don’t exactly look like your typical tour pro or college golfer, but then again there’s a lot of different body types and characters out on tour. You don’t have to fit a mold to be a good player.”
He has a big personality to go along with his appearance. His coach at Ohio State, Jay Moseley, has told people Shipley brings a lot of “good energy.”
“I like to have a lot of fun on the golf course with the guys and hang out a lot, just kind of be myself,” said Shipley. “I feel like that can be contagious and kind of gives everybody some good vibes.”
That’s not to be confused with him being anything less than serious about his golf game.
“I feel like driving the golf ball is a big strength of mine,” Shipley said. “I generally hit it further than most of the guys in college golf and still really straight. And then I’d say my short game is up there, especially bunker play, pitching.”
Shipley is expected to put those on display at famed Augusta National in Georgia next April among the azaleas and pro golf’s biggest names playing for that green jacket.
A couple of years ago, Shipley was in South Carolina for a golf event and drove over the border into Georgia just to swing past Augusta National. Or at least the front gate. “The place is like Fort Knox. You can’t see anything,” he said.
Next spring, in all likelihood, those gates will open for him.