Shipley’s great week at The Masters

Man hitting a golf ball as a crowd watches
Mt. Lebanon native Neal Shipley was one of only six amateurs to compete in the Masters Golf Tournament. His was the lowest score of the six.

If you ever have a week that smiles at you the way the second week in April smiled at Neal Shipley, marry it.

Shipley, who grew up on Altadena Drive, had the thrill of a lifetime and quite the career jolt after he earned a spot in the field at the Masters, the prestigious golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia. He not only won the Silver Cup as the low amateur–the only one who made the cut following the second round–but he also was paired with the legendary Tiger Woods for the final 18 holes on Sunday.

“Playing with Tiger Sunday at the Masters, and the whole week I had, I’d have to win one of these things to kind of top this week,” Shipley said during a press conference Sunday. “Definitely been a dream week. But looking forward to being out here soon (as a pro), hopefully.”

Shipley, 22, got invitations to the Masters and the U.S. Open coming up in June at Pinehurst 2 in North Carolina by finishing as the runner-up last summer at the United States Amateur Championship.

In the short term, Shipley is returning to Ohio State, where he is a graduate student, to finish his final season as a college golfer. Just imagine the story he will have to tell his teammates and classmates.

Shipley had rounds of 71-76-80-73 on the par-72 course to finish at plus-12. Scottie Scheffler won the tournament at minus-11.

And–get this–Shipley bested Woods in the final round Sunday. Woods, who has worked hard to overcome several physical challenges and said he was thrilled to make it through a 72-hole event, shot a 77 on Sunday.

Man hitting a golf ball
On the last day of the tournament, Shipley was paired on the course with golf legend Tiger Woods.

Winds and tough conditions plagued many of the golfers, especially the first couple of days, and Shipley was feeling a little bummed after shooting that 80 on Saturday. He was at the practice facility working on some things when his caddie–Upper St. Clair native, fellow Central Catholic graduate and University of Wisconsin golfer Carter Pitcairn–found him to deliver the news that he and Woods, both at 11 over, would be paired on Sunday.

“I got pretty excited then,” Shipley said. “That’s when the emotions got turned around.”

So, what was it like to play 18 holes with such a legend at such a legendary event?

“It was one of my more relaxed rounds of the week,” Shipley said. “Tiger made me feel really welcome. It was cool. We were chatting it up. Just kind of a cool, casual round with Tiger–other than it’s here at The Masters.

“We started talking about golf courses, started talking about Oakmont. It was kind of funny. He was like, ‘Yeah, I really like the old Oakmont with trees’ (before thousands were cut down). I was like, ‘I’m not old enough to remember that Oakmont.’”

Shipley called Woods “such a normal guy and really cool, and he was great to me all day. I couldn’t be more appreciative. Just to be around him and the crowds he gets. The roars were phenomenal.”

A few of those roars were likely also for Shipley, who proved popular at the U.S. Amateur last year, too.

“Normal looking dude with long hair,” Shipley explained. “I don’t really look like most golfers. I think I just have a great attitude on the golf course. I kind of show my emotion.”

Shipley began his college career at James Madison before transferring to Ohio State. It wasn’t really until last summer that he blossomed as a golfer who could perhaps make it as a pro eventually.

“It’s certainly been quite the journey,” he said. “It’s been a lot of hard work put into that. A lot of lows along the journey, but I’ve been really proud of myself with how I’ve kind of rolled with the punches throughout the years and kept working and striving for goals like this. Seeing all the hard work pay off has been unbelievable.

“One (point) that was really tough was after I made the U.S. Amateur in ’21 at Oakmont and I missed the cut there and missed qualifying for the travel squad for our first tournament at James Madison.

“I’ve been a grinder for a long time. I’ve always known that I was talented and could compete, but just needed to kind of get my game where it really should be, and I’ve been working really hard at it.

Making the cut out here in those tough conditions shows that I belong out here and can compete with these guys.”

Before he left Augusta, Shipley as low amateur was invited to Butler Cabin to participate in the nationally televised and highly traditional green jacket ceremony for Scheffler.

Looking a little nervous, Shipley was again asked about playing with Woods.

“Very special. It’s a day that I’m going to cherish forever,” he said. “He was great to me out there, and to have all the patrons out there rooting both of us on was phenomenal.”