U.S. Amateur Championship Match Set

Dunlap and Shipley will square off after comeback wins in semifinals

Neal Shipley closed out his semifinal match on No. 17 after nearly holing his approach shot. (USGA/Kathryn Riley)
Neal Shipley exults after nearly making an eagle on 17 to close out his semifinal match. (USGA/Kathryn Riley)

By Jon Rizzi

During the second of Saturday’s two semifinal matches in the U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills, Pittsburgh’s Neal Shipley, an Ohio State University grad student, heard plenty of “War Eagle” shouts from the gallery, especially on the front nine. And why not? His opponent, Auburn University’s John Marshall Butler, had won four of the first seven holes, was 2 up at the turn and 3 up with eight holes to play.

John Marshall Butler took a 3 up lead into the 11th hole in Saturday’s Semifinal (USGA/Kathryn Riley)

I felt in control of the match,” Butler said. “I felt in control of my golf swing.” Even when he couldn’t equal Shipley’s up-and-down on the par-5 11th, Butler radiated confidence.

Shipley Rights Himself

But so did Shipley. On the par-3 12th, the burly golfer with the wide smile and flowing mane cleared the pond and was pin-high on the right side of the green. Butler’s shot came up short, his ball finding the water. Rather than attempting to hole it for a par from the drop area, he conceded the hole to Shipley, who holed his six-foot putt anyway.

The pair halved the next two par 4s, although Shipley momentarily he’d won the 14th, had to abort a triumphant fist pump when his curling birdie putt on 14 missed by microns. “I’m going to have to go to the medical tent to get it figured out,” he joked when asked about the “devastating” effects of celebratium interrumptus. “I think we’ll be okay for tomorrow.”

Butler immediately rolled in a long par putt—capping off a brilliant up-and-down—followed by his own fist-pump and a look at Shipley. “I deserved it,” Shipley said sheepishly.

Craig Shipley said he "flipped the match" on hole 11 of the Semifinal (John Marshall Butler took a 3 up lead into the 11th hole in Saturday's Semifinal (USGA/Kathryn Riley)
Craig Shipley said he “flipped the match” on hole 11 of the Semifinal (USGA/Kathryn Riley)

Shipley then tied the match on the par-3 15th with a par after Butler missed the green and couldn’t recover.

More errant shots by Butler allowed Shipley to win No. 16 with a two-putt and the par-5 17th with a dramatic clinching birdie. From 93 yards, Shipley’s third shot landed some 30 feet past the hole and spun back directly at it, stopping a revolution or to from rolling in. Shipley high-fived fans as he bounded up the fairway toward the bridge to the island green. Butler conceded the birdie, and when he failed to hole a chip from the fringe, Shipley had a 2 and 1 victory and a spot in the 36-hole championship match on Sunday.

Dunlap Rolls

By then Shipley already knew his opponent would be the University of Alabama’s Nick Dunlap, the winner of the day’s first semifinal match. One down after bogeying the fifth hole against the University of Florida’s Parker Bell, Dunlap, the No. 9 player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), hit a 7-iron to within 8 feet to birdie the eighth and tie the match. A par on No. 9 gave him a one-up lead at the turn.

With a self-possession that belied his 19 years, Dunlap increased his lead on the par-3 12th by sinking a downhill 30-foot birdie putt. Bell played gamely, but his flat stick repeatedly betrayed him, and after Dunlap won the par-3 15th with a par, the match would end on 16, giving Dunlap the opportunity to become the only golfer other than Tiger Woods to capture both the U.S. Junior Amateur (which he did in 2021) and the U.S. Amateur.

Nick Dunlap U.S. Am Semifinals
Nick Dunlap reacts after draining a putt during the U.S. Amateur semifinal match against Parker Bell (USGA/Kathryn Riley)

“It would be pretty cool company,” said Dunlap, who has a 29-2 record in match-play competition, including a 6-0 mark on the way to the 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur title, and five victories this week at Cherry Hills Country Club. On Sunday, Dunlap will seek his 30th and biggest victory in the 36-hole final of the 123rd U.S. Amateur Championship.

“It’s something that’s been a goal of mine for a long, long time,” he said. “It’s the same thing, 36 holes; it’s a marathon tomorrow. It’s a lot of golf. There’s going to be ups and downs, there’s going to be changes in momentum, there’s going to be—I don’t know what’s going to be thrown at me, but I’m ready for it.”

The 36-hole final between Nick Dunlap and Neal Shipley begins at 8 a.m. MDT on Sunday, with the second 18 of the final beginning at 1 p.m. Expect to hear plenty of “Roll Tide” from the gallery. And plenty of “O-H,” too.

“It’s just cool to see the amount of people show up day after day after day and the atmosphere that people bring, the cheers, the yells,” Dunlap said. “You can hear it across the golf course. It’s really neat. … I’m just enjoying the crap out of it.”

You’re not the only one, Nick.

Manning Up on Saturday

Fans on the 10th tee at Cherry Hills swarm to get their photo taken with and U.S. Amateur Honorary Chairman (and Hall of Fame quarterback) Peyton Manning. (Photo by Jon Rizzi)
Fans on the 10th tee at Cherry Hills swarm to get their photo taken with and U.S. Amateur Honorary Chairman (and Hall of Fame quarterback) Peyton Manning. (Photo by Jon Rizzi)

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