Gabrielle Shipley ends career with a national championship

GVL / Courtesy - Brett Dunbar
Gabrielle Shipley competes in the GLIAC tournament Sunday, April 26, 2015.

Brett Dunbar

GVL / Courtesy – Brett Dunbar Gabrielle Shipley competes in the GLIAC tournament Sunday, April 26, 2015.

Beau Troutman

Walking along the 18th hole of Common Ground Golf Course in Denver, Colorado, Gabrielle Shipley wasn’t bothered by the fact that she was golfing her final collegiate hole.

The only thing she was worried about was how she was going to hit her next shot.

It’s a mentality that she carried throughout her collegiate career, and a mentality that helped her become the second individual national champion in Grand Valley State history and first since 2005 at the 2016 Division II Women’s Golf National Championships in Denver on May 19-21.

The team finished the tournament tied for fourth overall—thanks in part to shattering the single-round school record (284, -4) on day three—which garnered them a trophy and podium finish.

“Oh it was awesome,” Shipley said. “I accomplished an individual goal, and then we also accomplished that team goal at the end. It was awesome because a couple of the teammates didn’t know that fourth place got trophies. When they realized we did, they were all super excited.

“It was definitely a great moment to all be together.”

Shipley ends her senior season with the best individual scoring average (73.79) on the team, four wins, WGCA First Team All-American honors and a Div. II Honda Athlete of the Year nomination.

Shipley shot a 282 (-6) at the four-day tournament, which broke the 72-hole record mark by Melissa Sneller, GVSU’s only other individual champion. Sneller carded a 292 (E) in her championship win 11 years ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Though Shipley was unaware at the time, the 18th hole of the final round would prove to be what set her apart, as Findlay’s Kasey Petty scored just one stroke back for second overall at 283 (-5).

“I was in the zone where I didn’t even realize that that was the last hole of my career,” Shipley said. “I was more emotional on the first hole than the last hole, and I bogeyed my first hole of the day. At that point I was definitely in the zone.”

Shipley, who had done well on the par-5 18th on the first three days, crushed her tee shot deep into the fairway to set up the potential birdie opportunity.

After the crushing driver shot, Shipley hit her approach shot with a 3-hybrid and hit it well, but ended up in the greenside bunker.

“I actually walked up there, and when I realized that (the ball was in the bunker), I also realized that that was the first bunker shot I had hit all week,” Shipley said. “I asked my coach what the sand was like because that was my first bunker shot, and she was just looking at me so surprised.”

Shipley hit a great bunker shot onto the green, which set up about a seven-foot putt. A support group consisting of her teammates, the GVSU softball team—who was in Denver for the Div. II College World Series, athletic director Tim Selgo and others watched from near the green.

She walked up to the put confidently, set her target, and drained the putt for birdie, sending her and the GVSU faithful into a celebration.

The final birdie gave her the one stroke edge over Petty and a round score of 69, the first time in her collegiate career that she had an 18-hole score under 70—coincidentally in the final round as a Laker.

“You can’t imagine any better way to close out a great four years” said GVSU coach Rebecca Mailloux. “She deserves every bit of it. She’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached… It’s nice to see somebody who does put in the time get that reward at the end of it.

“Not everybody gets to come out on top, but for the work ethic and all that to pay off is awesome.”

Shipley is already shifting her focus to the next chapter of her career. Shipley will spend the greater part of the rest of the year training for qualifying school, or “Q-school.” Q-school is the name for a three stage event that consists of four five-day tournaments that players try to advance through to earn their LPGA tour card.

To earn the tour card, golfers must advance to the second stage by having a low enough score in the first, and likewise for the third stage. The first stage is in California, and stages two and three are in Florida. Shipley is planning on moving to Tampa, Florida at the beginning of August for training.

There are multiple ways a golfer can attain their LPGA tour card, but Mailloux says Q-school is “the most direct route.”

Whether it’s Q-school, amateur tournaments, or professional tournaments down the road, one thing Shipley will carry with her is the work ethic that Mailloux says “set a precedent.” Her work ethic is the hallmark of her game, and is ultimately what crowned her a Div. II national champion.

To her, it was all worth it.

“Not being able to go out on weekends and go hang out with friends, it’s definitely a part of college most athletes don’t get to be a part of,” Shipley said. “But I mean, winning a national championship is much better than going to the movies on a Friday night.

“If I had to do it all over again, I would probably work even harder.”