Shipley caps amateur career with U.S. Open honor

Less than one year ago, Neal Shipley was a little-known golfer. Although he had won the 2022 Pennsylvania Amateur, Shipley was the second-best player on his college team at Ohio State University, with a batch of top-20 tournament finishes and only one top-10.

Then came the summer of 2023. Shipley burst onto the scene with three runner-up finishes and a third in prestigious events before he traveled to Denver, Colo., for the 123rd U.S. Amateur. There, Shipley reeled off five straight match-play victories as the No. 47 seed before losing to Nick Dunlap in the 36-hole final at Cherry Hills Country Club. His week was punctuated by a high-five celebration with fans that went viral after he sealed his 2-and-1 semifinal victory over John Marshall Butler.

That runner-up finish to Dunlap (who is now a PGA Tour member after becoming the first amateur to win a Tour event in more than 30 years) gave Shipley, 23, entry into two 2024 major championships, and he has continued his run of outstanding play. On Sunday, Shipley outdueled Luke Clanton, a rising junior at Florida State, by two strokes with a round of 2-over-par 72 to earn low-amateur honors in the 124th U.S. Open on Course No. 2 at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, on top of placing as the low amateur in the Masters Tournament. That made him the first player since Viktor Hovland in 2019 to earn such honors in the U.S. Open and the Masters in the same year. Shipley finished at 6-over-par 286, in a tie for 26th place, while Clanton finished T-41.

“It’s been wild,” said Shipley when asked about the run of tremendous play that began about a year ago when he finished second in the Sunnehanna, Trans-Mississippi and the Dogwood Invitationals. “It’s been something that maybe three, four years ago I didn’t think was possible, and to accomplish all this has just been phenomenal. Just the stuff of dreams really; I think I’ve checked all the boxes now.”

Shipley becomes the ninth golfer all-time to win low amateur at the U.S. Open and the Masters in the same year. Along with Hovland, the others (with the most recent listed first) are Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Sam Randolph, Jack Nicklaus, Billy Joe Patton, Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi. Shipley has climbed from No. 132 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking entering the 2023 U.S. Amateur to the current No. 31 player in the WAGR.

Shipley and Clanton provided some drama as they played together on Sunday in the battle for the low-amateur medal. Clanton trailed by one stroke on No. 18, then hit his approach to about 5 feet for a birdie that would have left them tied with a share of the medal. Shipley, who had taken the lead with a birdie on the difficult par-4 16th, prevailed by two when he parred, and Clanton closed with a disappointing three-putt. The last time two players shared low-amateur honors was in 2018 when Matt Parziale and Luis Gagne tied for 48th place at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.

Shipley, a graduate of Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School who posted six top-10 finishes for the Buckeyes this spring in his final season, is expected to turn professional later this week. He relished the chance to square off with Clanton, who is No. 5 in the WAGR and won the 2022 North & South Amateur on Pinehurst No. 2.

“He really made it tough on me,” said Shipley, who played three years at James Madison University while earning a degree in quantitative finance before going on to Ohio State. “He’s such a quality player. If you follow college golf, you know he’s one of the best out there.”

Noting the names of some of the players who preceded him in earning the Masters-U. S. Open double, Shipley said, “I think it means I’ve got some big shoes to fill. The guys who have done it have obviously gone on to have some great careers. For me, it just really solidifies my amateur career as I turn pro next week.”

Feature photo: Neal Shipley by Sandhills Sentinel photographer Cow McFarland.

~Written by Ron Driscoll, USGA.

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