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Looks can be deceiving. But you don’t need to tell Neal Shipley that.

The 23-year-old is six-foot-two and built like a football player – the kind they know on this side of the Atlantic. As he strides along Augusta’s fairways, his shoulder-length hair, which he grew out during the first Covid lockdown, billows from under his Ping-logoed cap as it catches the stiff Georgia breeze.

“I definitely stand out on the golf course,” the college student says. “I don’t exactly look like your typical golfer.

He pauses.

“But you don’t have to fit a mould to be a good player.”

There’s so much more to him than his striking appearance. Shipley has spent the first 36 holes of this year’s Masters ensuring he is also a commanding presence on the leaderboard.

Currently 37th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, Shipley will head into the weekend with the Low Amateur crown already locked up with the other five members of the unpaid ranks – Stewart Hagestad, Santiago de la Fuente, Jasper Stubbs and No 1 Christo Lamprecht – falling on the wrong side of the cutline.

But this is of little surprise to anyone who knows him – despite the fact he adopts, in his own words, a “fake-it-till-you-make-it” attitude to his game.

“I was certainly thinking about Low Am,” he admits about his pre-tournament expectations. “I thought I had a chance to compete with all those guys. I showed that yesterday, to shoot one-under in those really tough conditions, that I belong out here.

“It’s just a matter of proving that.”

Shipley plots his way carefully around each golf course he plays. No surprise given he studied a degree in quantitive finance, with minors in maths and economics, while playing for the golf team at James Madison University in Virginia before switching to Ohio State to complete a masters in data analytics.

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Shipley, born and raised in Pittsburgh, first picked up a set of clubs after being inspired by Vijay Singh’s third and final major victory at the 2004 PGA Championship.

“I decided to get my own little set and it took off from there so I credit Vijay for getting me into it.” In that exact moment as we are talking in the small interview section by Augusta’s clubhouse, Singh walks behind Shipley. He smiles. “I did get the chance to meet him briefly. It’s pretty cool.”

Shipley has not stopped grinning from ear to ear since emerging from the scorer’s area since adding a 76 to his opening-day 71 that will see him comfortably into the weekend. And why not? He’s living every college golfer’s dream. Hell, he’s living every golfer’s dream full stop.

And he’s winning fans over with his infectious personality.

“A joker,” he says, when asked how his friends would describe him. “I like to make jokes a lot. They’d probably call me a lot of other things I couldn’t say on camera…”

Neal Shipley and caddie Carter
Neal Shipley said he surprised childhood friend Carter Pitcairn with the Masters caddie job. (Credit: Getty Images)

The closest of his circle, Carter Pitcairn, is the man who got the nod to be Shipley’s jumpsuit-clad companion for the week. The golfer says he popped the question to his childhood pal when they were both home in Pennsylvania over the Thanksgiving break.

“I actually really surprised him when I told him I wanted him on the bag,” he beams. “That was a cool moment.

“We grew up in the same country club, St Clair. He was 10, I was 13. We’ve been playing golf together since then. During the summer, we’d pretty much play every day. Then when we got into high school we had to drive ourselves to our matches, so I was his chauffeur for about a year. There’s a lot of McDonald’s trips and miles together in the car.”

Luckily, there are no disagreements over the music. “We’re two big country guys,” he reveals. And that’s not where the similarities end.

“We both like to go fishing too and do stuff like that. We’re just really, really close. We joke around a good bit. A lot of it’s business. He keeps me loose and keeps me laughing. So I really enjoy it.

“This week is even more special because he’s on the bag and really happy I chose him.”

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Comfortably in for the remainder of the tournament, Shipley can now start thinking about a visit to Butler Cabin.

“The walk up to 18 on Sunday,” he says. “That’s going to be really, really cool.”

He pauses for a moment before getting philosophical.

“You have to treat every Masters as if it’s your last,” he explains.

“You never know with how your career goes with injuries, or just maybe things don’t turn out the way you want to. I certainly don’t think it’s going to be my last Masters.”

The 88th Masters has found its cult hero.

Listen to more of what we have to say on the Masters daily commute episodes of The bunkered Podcast from Augusta.

author headshot

Alex Perry is the Associate Editor of bunkered. A journalist for more than 20 years, he has been a golf industry stalwart for the majority of his career and, in a five-year spell at ESPN, covered every sporting event you can think of. He completed his own Grand Slam at the 2023 Masters, having fallen in love with the sport at his hometown club of Okehampton and on the links of nearby Bude & North Cornwall.

Associate Editor

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