Ben Shipp and his instructor Mike Perpich used to do a drill on the driving range that was sure to turn a few heads. Perpich would roll a golf ball toward Shipp, who would then hit the moving ball as it went by.
Since he first began working with a 7-year-old Shipp, Perpich has marveled at his student’s ability to strike the ball in the center of the clubface.
“He would strike it so pure, it was unbelievable,” Perpich said. “People would walk over and watch that on the range and shake their head.”
Shipp, 23, chuckles at the memory. That move doesn’t come as easily now that he’s gotten older.
“One of my habits since I was a kid was on my downswing, I would get kind of stuck, I wouldn’t be releasing the club as I was turning,” he said. “If I do that when he is throwing the ball to me, I have no chance of hitting it. I knew that so just naturally I would use my athletic ability to hit the ball however I could. … It got me really turning through the ball and letting my arms release through the ball.”
Shipp doesn’t need driving range tricks to turn heads. He’s done that with tournament play.
A year ago, he won the South Beach International Amateur and had top-10 finishes (including a runner-up at the General Hackler) in two of three college golf events played with his North Carolina State team before COVID shut down the spring season.
In the past six months, he was 15th at the Sunnehanna Amateur, made match play at the U.S. Amateur and won a Golf Coaches Association Amateur event in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Back in 2004, Shipp came to Perpich with a 10-finger baseball grip – with his left thumb positioned on the right side of the club. Perpich addressed the thumb position in time, but Shipp still uses a 10-finger grip.
Back then, Shipp always worried that he wasn’t strong enough or able to hit it far enough. That problem solved itself, too. Perpich always tried to keep his student challenged (hence, the ball-rolling drill).
Now that means shot shaping. Shipp learned to move the ball in any direction and recover from any position on the golf course – even if it’s only imaginary trouble in his way.
“Every shot that he’s got is, in his mind, it’s like he is putting trees in front of him, imaginary trees or this or that and then he’s doing what he needs to do to have it end up where he wants to put it in the fairway or a quadrant on the green,” Perpich said. “We’re kind of like imaginary putting him in trouble when he’s standing in the middle of the fairway.
“It lets him visually see exactly what he wants to do, where he wants the ball in what quadrant on the green and what’s it going to look like.”
Shipp has charted his golf journey while managing the physical effects of Tourette’s syndrome, which causes sudden, uncontrollable movements and sounds. Shipp has worked hard to manage the tics, a process he had to figure out for himself. He kept playing, kept practicing, and as the years have gone by, managing it became easier.
“It’s honestly pretty random,” he said of his tics. “There’s no real way to predict which ones are coming. I have kind of general strategies to calm myself down and lower the stress level if I need.”
High-pressure situations sometimes make his tics harder to control, but Shipp says being on the golf course is different. It’s where he feels most comfortable, the most in control.
This week, Shipp defends a title that so far has been career-defining for him. He calls the South Beach title his best golf accomplishment for two reasons: the perennially strong field this tournament draws and the way he fought back to win in 2019.
Shipp was four shots back entering the final round at Miami Beach Golf Club. He played the front nine in 2 over before turning and reeling off birdie, bogey, then eagle at Nos. 10-12. By the time Shipp made his next birdie, at No. 15, he had a share of the lead at 2 under. When Garett Reband, now a fifth-year senior at Oklahoma, made double at No. 15, Shipp was able to force a playoff that he won after two holes.
“It wasn’t by any means a perfect day,” he said of that final round, “but I just kept hanging in there through tough conditions and battled back. I think about that more than even just the win itself.
“I take that experience with me everywhere I go now.”
Shipp says his mental game has done a complete 180 in the past few years. He’d heard it from Perpich, but when he got to N.C. State, his coaches doubled down on the importance of what’s going on in his head.
Now it’s a strength. He knew he couldn’t rely just on tournaments to practice it, so Shipp took it to the golf course for casual rounds, solo rounds – anytime he teed it up.
“I would go out on the golf course and before I even hit a shot, I would tell myself I didn’t care what happens, I didn’t care where I hit these golf shots,” he said. “My only goal for the day is to stay focused on the next one and not get mad, not get frustrated at anything that happens. I didn’t care what I shot. That was hard to do but I kept doing it.”
Perpich put a Ben Hogan-inspired mantra in his head: That every time he takes a step down the fairway, a door closes behind him.
Shipp’s most recent tournament start was at the Maridoe Amateur, an event created this year for 100 of the top amateurs in the country.
“At Maridoe, he made it through and he said, ‘I’m not quite on it yet,’” Perpich remembers.
But Shipp won three more matches – most notably against Reband (in 19 holes) in the first round and against former U.S. Junior champ Noah Goodwin in the Round of 16 – before bowing out at the hands of Rutgers’ Chris Gotterup.
Shipp, like many seniors and “COVID” seniors sticking around for a fifth season of college golf, isn’t sure what the future holds. He knows what the road looks like through June, but after that? He may turn pro, or he may retain his amateur status and hope for a U.S. Amateur start at Oakmont Country Club.
Since Shipp’s story of managing his Tourette’s as a high-level amateur, younger players with the syndrome have sought him out to share their own stories. A young girl in Oklahoma contacted him after she saw Shipp play the NCAA Championship and another golfer who attends college in Alabama also reached out. Shipp tries to text them each week to see how they’re doing. He feels it’s his responsibility to do so, and imagines someday he might use his experience to create some kind of PGA Tour platform for players like himself.
His is a story of never giving up, no matter what challenge presented itself.
“I love golf too much to ever really think about quitting,” Shipp said, “so that was definitely the motivation to find some ways to handle it.”
Maridoe Amateur bracket down to eight, including medalist and a USGA champion
Medalist Will Holcomb survives and advances at Maridoe Amateur; all-Texas battle on tap
Ben Shipp edges Garett Reband in South Beach International Amateur playoff