DETROIT — With the prize of a PGA Tour tee time on the line, it was unsurprisingly the man with more Tour experience than anyone else who triumphed at the inaugural John Shippen.
Forty-eight year-old Tim O’Neal, a full decade older than any other player in the field, fired a final-round 68 at Detroit Golf Club to win by two in the new invitational featuring the best Black golfers in America.
“Age is nothing but a number, right?” he joked with the press, keen to remind them that August 3rd, his 49th birthday, is just a few weeks away. But before that, he now has his tee time at the Rocket Mortgage Classic this week, his eighth career Tour start and first since the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.
To show you how long O’Neal has been at it, just know his first start on the Korn Ferry Tour came long before it was the Korn Ferry Tour. And long before it was the Web.com Tour. And before it was the Nationwide Tour or the Buy.com Tour. It came back in 1998, on the Nike Tour.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” O’Neal said. “For me at 48, still to be able to compete and be able to play means a lot to me. Hopefully it’s going to inspire guys not to quit and keep grinding.”
O’Neal has spent the last few years bouncing among the secondary tours of pro golf — including a full season the PGA Tour Latinoamerica — doing most of his recent work on the Advocates Pro Golf Association Tour, a tour devoted to minorities in golf. O’Neal was the most consistent performer throughout the pandemic-rattled 2020 season and was a shoo-in to compete in this invite-only event. His 71 on Sunday was tied for the best score of the day, and his 68 on Monday tied for the best again. Not long after his win, O’Neal was joyously posing for a photo with Cameron Champ, Harold Varner III and Joseph Bramlett, three of the four Black golfers currently playing on the PGA Tour.
In total, 21 male and 12 female players were invited to take part in the John Shippen, ranging from O’Neal all the way down to Amari Avery, a 17-year-old amateur committed to play college golf at Southern California … once she graduates from high school. All expenses and travel-related costs covered by the organizers, similar to what Joe Louis used to do at Rackham Golf Club — located just six miles north — back in the 1940s with the Joe Louis Open.
The women’s event, a two-player team tournament, saw Shasta Averyhardt and Anita Uwadia win by two to earn a berth in the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational later this month here in Michigan. After fending off five other pairs Monday, their next competition is quite literally the Korda sisters — Nelly and Jessica — and other stars of the LPGA Tour.
Lastly, it was Avery, one of the best junior women’s amateurs in the country, who survived a gauntlet of a playoff during the Cognizant Shootout. A six-some of players pegged it for a winner-takes-all three-hole aggregate shootout during the peak of a sweaty, breezeless day in muggy Detroit. With the playoff win, via a birdie-par-par finish, Avery claimed the final exemption of the day, a solo spot in the Cognizant Founders Cup, played in October on the LPGA Tour.