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Sometimes, experience is all you need.
It was the deciding factor for Tim O’Neal, who won the inaugural John Shippen National Invitational at the Detroit Golf Club on Monday. The victory earned O’Neal an exemption into this week’s PGA Tour event in Detroit, the Rocket Mortgage Classic, beginning Thursday.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time. For me at 48, still to be able to compete and be able to play means a lot to me,” said O’Neal, a 20-year veteran, who was the oldest golfer in the field. “Hopefully it’s going to inspire guys not to quit and keep grinding.”
O’Neal overcame two early bogeys on the front nine to finish with 4-under par on Monday after making seven birdies. He shot a 68 on Monday to close out his two-day score at 5-under 139.
“It was a little stressful today. I didn’t play that well on the front nine,” said O’Neal, the Savannah, Georgia, native. “I had a hiccup on 14 and had the ball spin back in the water, but after that I rebounded and made a couple of birdies coming down the stretch and was able to get the win.”
Back-to-back birdies on the 16th and 17th hole were the turning point for O’Neal to pull away from Kevin Hall who came in second place with a two-day total of 141.
“I hit it in there about 8 feet and made birdie on top of him, and then I made birdie on the next hole. That was kind of the highlight,” O’Neal said. “I knew he was close, but I didn’t know what everyone else was doing in the field. For me, that was the highlight because I knew I needed to make that putt to keep distance.”
O’Neal’s exemption into the Rocket Mortgage Classic is his first PGA Tour appearance since 2019, when he received the Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption to play in the Genesis Open.
The John Shippen National Invitation was created in honor of the first Black professional golfer, and to provide more playing opportunities for Black golfers.
“Shippen coming along and having this exemption for a lot of players getting exposure to play in the Rocket Mortgage I think it’s huge,” said O’Neal, who played college golf at Jackson State. “Hopefully more guys coming behind me will be doing the same thing next year.”
Tim O’Neal from Savannah, Georgia, won the inaugural John Shippen Invitational to earn an exemption to play in the Rocket Mortgage Classic being held at the Detroit Golf Club on Monday, June 28, 2021. Photo by Kirthmnon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press
The women’s side of the Shippen field was won by Flint native Shasta Averyardt and South Carolina alum Anita Uwadia. The duo earned the exemption into next month’s LPGA Tour team tournament, the Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland.
Averyhardt, 35, was an LPGA member in 2011 and 2013 and was the tour’s fourth ever Black member.
“Obviously we’re going to embrace it, and we’re very thankful for the opportunity. This is a great way to honor Mr. Shippen,” said Averyhardt, who will make her first appearance at an LPGA event in eight years.
“So we’re going to stay in the present and just stay in the moment and really just one shot at a time. That’s like a cliché, right, but we don’t want to put too much pressure on ourselves. We still want to enjoy it and have fun.”
Uwadia, a 23-year-old United Kingdom native, completed became a professional golfer last year and is looking forward to competing in her first LPGA tournament.
“I am really excited. I’ve never played there before. I never played in an LPGA event. Your dream obviously is to be on the LPGA, to win majors, but it’s definitely the first step,” Uwadia said. “To go out there and play with people that you watch on TV, that’s pretty cool. I’m super excited.
Mia Berry is a sports reporting intern with the Free Press. Reach out via email: email@example.com.