Par golf was not going to cut it at the John Shippen Invitational.
It was going to take red figures to win the tournament held in honor of the first Black golf professional. That’s what Tim O’Neal and the duo of Shasta Averyhardt and Anita Uwadia produced on Monday at the Detroit Golf Club to play their way into the highest rung of professional golf.
A tiger on the loose
O’Neal shot a 4-under 68 during Monday’s second round to win the Men’s Division with a 5-under 139. His prize – beside winning the inaugural John Shippen — was an exemption into this week’s PGA Tour event, the Rocket Mortgage Classic, that will be played on the same course.
The Jackson State alumnus held off Kevin Hall (3-under 141) as well as Rovonta Young and Kamaiu Johnson (2-under, 142) to earn his eighth PGA Tour start.
“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 will make his first PGA Tour start since the 2019 Genesis Open. He will look to make his first cut at a PGA Tour tournament that will be held on the same Detroit Golf Course where he carded 10 birdies in two rounds during the John Shippen.
Old man game
O’Neal entered the second round tied with 23-year-old Middle Tennessee alumnus Marcus Byrd, 23-year-old Michael Herrera and 26-year-old Barry Babbitt at 1-under 71. He birdied his first hole, but immediately followed with bogeys at Nos. 2 and 4.
O’Neal birdied both the par-5, No. 7 and the par-4 eighth hole to get him back into the red for the day. His 35 on the front nine left him tied with Hall and Babbitt at 2-under for the tournament.
“I wasn’t really aware of the scores,” O’Neal told reporters afterward. “I had a friend that’s kind of walking around and kind of telling me what the scores were late in the round, but wasn’t really paying attention to the scores, just trying to make some birdies and just play solid.
“It was obviously stacked up pretty close. I started making some birdies. I didn’t know what everyone was doing, but in my mind I just was trying to make as many birdies as possible.”
O’Neal made four birdies, and a bogey, on the back nine. It was enough to hold off Hall whose steady play down the stretch didn’t produce any bogeys, but only one birdie, a tap-in birdie at No. 16.
Young eagled No. 17 to get to 2-under for the tournament; however, he, like Johnson, left themselves too much to do during Monday’s final round to catch O’Neal.
Hot start secures top finish
The women’s division featured 12 players separated into six two-person teams. Sunday’s first round was played in an alternate shot format, while Monday’s final round was a four-ball format.
Averyhardt and Uwadia were tied with Breanne Jones and Sierra Sims entering Monday’s second round. The teams had a four-stroke lead over their nearest challengers.
Uwadia birdied the first hole and that was the opening she and Michigan native Averyhardt needed to secure an exemption into the LPGA Tour’s Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational July 14-17.
Averyhardt and Uwadia shot a final round 68 to finish at 3-under 141. Jones and Sims were two strokes back while Amari Avery and Bailey Davis tied with Zoe Slaughter and Amari Smith in a tie for third at 2-over 146.
“I’m super excited. I am really excited. I’ve never played there before. I never played in an LPGA event, so just to go out there,” Uwadia said. “Your dream obviously is to be on the LPGA, to win majors, but it’s definitely a first step. To go out there and play with people that you watch on TV, that’s pretty cool. I’m super excited, especially to tee it up with her.”
Sims and Jones, a pair of LPGA Symetra Tour players, bogeyed the second hole. That miscue, combined with another Uwadia birdie at No. 4 provided what proved to be an insurmountable three-shot lead.
“I’m really excited,” Uwadia said. “This is the first win in a while, so of course I’m really excited. And for us to be able to come out here after the adversity with the water, the drainage and come out here and play well, it means a lot. And to play with Shasta…
“That was great,” Averyhardt interjected.
“Yeah, it was really cool,” Uwadia concluded.
New faces on Tour
Their win means Averyhardt will return to the LGPA Tour for the first time in eight years and clinched Uwadia’s first PGA Tour start. Later in the day, 17-year-old Amari Avery also won a sponsor’s exemption to a LPGA Tour event.
Avery topped Davis, Slaughter and Smith in a three-hole Cognizant Shoot-out to earn a start at the Cognizant Founder’s Cup in New Jersey this October.
Davis was not yet born when O’Neal made the first of his PGA Tour starts at the 2002 Worldcom Classic. But, in the years since, golf has made an effort to be more inclusive. O’Neal recognizes those works and would like to see them continue.
“It’s a start,” the inaugural John Shippen winner said. “Hopefully more tournaments will start doing something similar would be nice, but yeah, it is a step in the right direction. We’re not there yet, but it is a baby step and it is going in the right direction.”