Ohio State men’s golf coach Jay Moseley never had to worry about Neal Shipley’s ability to adapt to the level of competition at a Power Five conference school.
“I can tell you he’s been an absolute pleasure to have on the team,” Moseley said. “He’s been a lot of fun, brought a lot of good energy. He’s certainly, I would call him, one of the more interesting characters in college golf.”
A 2019 Central Catholic graduate and Mt. Lebanon native, Shipley transferred to Ohio State for the 2023 season after three years at James Madison.
“He’s a very intelligent young man,” Moseley said. “He just has a great personality and keeps it loose. We’ve had a lot of fun being around him and being on the road with him this year.
“I will say he’s mighty proud of his Pittsburgh roots,” Moseley added of Shipley. “He would be, probably among Steeler nation, he would be a mild fan, but to us he’s pretty obnoxious.”
And, in the same vein as his beloved six-time Super Bowl champion hometown NFL franchise, Shipley has fit in quite well contending for a national title in Columbus.
Ohio State opens play in the NCAA championships today at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The 30-team NCAA championship field includes 156 golfers who will take part in three-stroke play. The field will be trimmed to 15 teams for the final round on Monday. Following 72 holes, an individual champion will be crowned, while eight teams advance to match play beginning Tuesday.
“Obviously you’ve got to have nerves, this is the national championship, but overall I’m just really excited to be out here competing,” said Shipley, in his first of two seasons of eligibility at Ohio State. “It’s a really special week. At the end of the day, we’ve got an opportunity to do something really special as a team.”
Shipley will be a key contributor to a Buckeyes lineup, which includes Maxwell Moldovan — a finalist for the Fred Haskins Award, presented each season to Division I’s top golfer — along with Adam Wallin, JonErik Alford and Jackson Chandler.
“We’ve had a number of transfer students, especially in the COVID era,” said Moseley, whose Buckeyes are playing in the NCAA championships for the second consecutive season. “They’re certainly different than true freshmen. They come in pretty much drinking water out of a fire hose from day one. Neal, obviously, knows the ropes. He stepped right in, and it was like he had been here for a couple years. His transition has been pretty incredible.”
Shipley will be Ohio State’s first golfer of the first round when he tees off at 10:05 a.m. on the NCAA championship’s 10th hole. His first-round group includes Colorado State’s Rasmus Hjelm and Georgia’s Buck Brumlow.
The par-70 NCAA championship Grayhawk Golf Club course will play 7,289 yards.
“In the portal I had a lot of opportunities, but at the end of the day, I definitely wanted to be somewhere where I could compete for a national championship and get to the highest level and play against the best,” Shipley said.
That competitive nature began at Central Catholic.
Shipley was part of the Vikings’ 2016 and 2018 PIAA Class 3A championship teams, shooting a 74 in 2016 and a team-best 72 in 2018.
From there, Shipley matriculated to James Madison, which plays in Division I’s Sun Belt Conference, where his scoring average was 72.38 as a freshman, 73.83 as a sophomore and 72.41 as a junior, which was good for second lowest on the team and eighth lowest in program history.
What may have set Shipley on a course toward a berth in the NCAA championships, however, was his finish in the 109th Pennsylvania State Amateur Championship at Llanerch Country Club last summer.
Shipley shot an opening-round 63 before shooting a 73 and then a final-round 67 to win the prestigious event while representing the course where he grew up playing, St. Clair Country Club.
“I think it goes to show a lot of the hard work that I’ve been doing over the last two, three years,” Shipley said. “There’s a lot of guys who definitely started college better than me, but I’ve been working really hard to put myself in this position, and I’m proud of what I’ve done so far.”
In his first season at Ohio State, Shipley has two top-15 finishes. He finished in a tie for seventh place, shooting 71, 71 and 75 for 4-over par in the Buckeyes’ Robert Kepler Intercollegiate at OSU Golf Club’s Scarlet Course on the weekend of April 21.
Shipley’s largest contribution to Ohio State’s success, though, came during the NCAA Auburn Regional. He finished in a tie for 13th place, shooting 72, 69 and 76 for 1-over par at Auburn University Club in Auburn, Ala.
“He hits it a very long way,” said Moseley, who is in his eighth season at Ohio State. “He’s one of the better ball strikers we’ve had on the team. He’s got great hands and can get around really, really nicely. There’s not really any golf course that is very intimidating, I would say, because he’s played a lot of high-level amateur and college golf and played on some pretty elite championship-style courses. He hasn’t really been intimidated by anything that he’s seen and faced with college golf.
“His game is well-rounded and he’s just a very nice college player, for sure.”
And Shipley will be looking to make the most of his first opportunity to make a run at a national championship.
“I think we’ve got the type of team that if we are all clicking we can definitely make match play,” he said. “Then from there it’s kind of anyone’s ballgame.”
Aside from shooting a low score, Shipley said he is also focused on his other role with the Buckeyes.
“With my guys around here I like to joke around a lot, keep things fun,” he said. “At the end of the day, we are just playing golf this week. It’s just another tournament. I think some people can take themselves out of it if they get too tight or too worked up and think, ‘My goodness this is the national championship.’
“You’ve just got to keep it like another golf trip with the boys.”
And that includes not letting any of his teammates forget about his love of the Steelers.
“We’ve got two Browns and two Bengals fans in there,” said Shipley of his teammates. “During the fall on Sundays it can get a little bit heated. It’s definitely fun. I think [Steelers quarterback] Kenny Pickett is looking really good here, so I have high hopes.”