Neal Shipley with caddie, Carter Pitcairn, after winning his semi-final match in the U.S. Amateur. Photo courtesy of Back of the Range.

Neal Shipley's amazing summer
By Mike Dudurich  • August 21, 2023

Neal Shipley is an unabashed free spirit. If you didn’t know him and were looking for clues to that, start with his hair. The long locks he wears are definitely those of a guy who marches to his own drummer.

Another clue can be found in how he attacks the game of golf. Yes, he "plays" golf, but with a definite attacking style. He’s a see-ball, hit-ball-hard kinda guy, but with the kind of finesse and touch required to win big amateur golf tournaments.

A native of St. Clair, resident of Mt. Lebanon, and graduate of Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Shipley has evolved into one of best elite amateurs in the country and shown that throughout what might go down as a one-of-a-summer on golf courses across the country.

What the young man with the long haircut accomplished in 2023 was just short of spectacular, playing high-level golf in the best national events and while he didn’t win one, he posted runner-up finishes at the Dogwood Invitational, the Sunnehanna Amateur and the Trans-Mississippi Amateur. He also tied for third in the Pacific Coast Amateur.

And then last week, at the site of one of Arnold Palmer’s greatest victories, Shipley took eventual winner deep in the 36-hole finale of the U.S. Amateur before falling to a barrage of long putts for birdies by champion Matt Dugan, 4&3, on Sunday.

“You shoot 5 under [in the morning round] and you would think you’d be at least 1 or 2 up,” said Shipley, a grad student at Ohio State who played at James Madison University before joining the Ohio State program last year. “Nick played great, and he just made a lot of putts on me this afternoon. That’s what it takes to win these things. He has what it takes, obviously, and I just didn't really play my best. I got outdueled today.”

Getting to the finals of the Amateur earned Shipley a silver medal and a three-year U.S. Amateur exemption (which he’ll most likely not use). More importantly he’ll be exempt into the 2024 U.S. Open and will most likely get an invite to the 2024 Masters.

“Both of those things are so cool,” Shipley said. “I’ve never been to Augusta. I can’t wait to see the course and spend some time hanging out in the Crow’s Nest (place in the clubhouse where amateurs are housed for the week.

After a quick trip to Pittsburgh, he’ll be headied back to Columbus, Ohio, where his goal is to lead the Buckeyes to an NCAA championship and while he’s at it, Shipley’s going to try to finish what he started last year in the NCAA individual competition.

He was situated in the top 10 going into the final round but had a tough day and finished nearly 30th.

“I feel like we have the team to win it as a team and after the summer I’ve had, I’m confident I can compete against the college kids,” he said. ““If you would’ve told me even two years ago that I would be playing in The Masters and U.S. Open, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Shipley said. “It is crazy.”

Part of the experience at Cherry Hills was the almost yearly remembrance of how Arnold Palmer made a spectacular final round comeback that started by driving the first green. As a salute to that feat, USGA gave each player in the field a crack from the first tee with a persimmon driver.

Guess who the only player was to hit the green?

Yep, Neal Shipley.

It was. Indeed, a special week.

About the WPGA
Founded in 1899, the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association is the steward of amateur golf in the region. Started by five Member Clubs, the association now has nearly 200 Member Clubs and 34,000 members. The WPGA conducts 14 individual competitions and 10 team events, and administers the WPGA Scholarship Fund and Western Pennsylvania Golf Hall of Fame.