It's only his second time competing in the Palmetto Amateur, but Neal Shipley is playing like a regular midway through the tournament's 47th edition.
The Pittsburgh native has quickly learned some of the most important lessons about safely navigating Palmetto Golf Club, and he's turned that into a one-shot lead midway through the Palmetto Amateur.
"I feel really good. I played consistent and patient out there," said Shipley, who two weeks ago won the 119th annual West Penn Open. "On the tough holes on the front nine just kind of trying to make pars. I think I've been even through the first six or seven holes so far. On the back nine there's a few you can get, so just making sure you make birdies when you can get them. That's been key, and just limiting mistakes. I feel great so far. If I can keep this up, I like my chances."
Shipley's round of 66 has him at 6-under 134, one clear of Rafe Reynolds (66). For the second day in a row Shipley made just one bogey, and he birdied three of his last five holes to match the low round of the tournament so far.
He opened with a 66 last year in his Palmetto Amateur debut but didn't post another score in the 60s, finishing the week 18 shots behind champion John Gough. He said it didn't take long to figure out how to differentiate between safe misses and round-killing ones, and he paid close attention to where it's appropriate to hunt for flags.
"It's just playing to middle of greens when you really should be," said Shipley, who played three seasons at James Madison and will continue his collegiate career at Ohio State. "They're going to get guys to try to chase pins. There's a bunch of them, like the back of 12 green, the back right pin today. You've just got to try to leave it 10 feet short of that pin and a little bit left of it, because if you go right or long you're going to make bogey or even double.
"There's some holes, like on 17 today I had a great number in the middle of the fairway and I knew I could go straight at it because it's in the middle of the green. Just kind of picking your spots to be aggressive is huge."
Reynolds, who back in March tied for fourth to help the University of South Carolina win the Palmetto Intercollegiate, matched Shipley's 66 but did it in a more eventful manner. He made six birdies and an eagle (on the par-5 10th) to overcome two bogeys and a double.
Behind them are seven players at 3 under, and they'll be joined in Friday's final group at 11:50 a.m. by Florida State's Gray Albright (67).
First-round co-leaders Gene Zeigler (74) and Wanxi Sun (72) stumbled a bit but are still very much in the hunt. Sun was even-par for the day before tough bogeys at 14 and 15 to drop to 2 over for the week, and Zeigler didn't make a birdie until the 18th and fell to even par.
The field scoring average rose only slightly on Friday to 72.19, up from 71.99 on Thursday. Players battled intense heat for a second consecutive day, with the heat index reaching as high as 107 degrees in the afternoon, but all were able to complete play before storms rolled into town early in the evening.
"It is hot," Shipley said with a laugh. "I've been staying hydrated, got a lot of electrolytes and trying to do all of those things. But you can't really prepare for this. I could sit in the sauna for four hours. You've just got to deal with it. Everyone's dealing with it. Everyone's hot. It just is what it is."
Albright and Cody Carroll each shot 67 to climb into the tie for third at 3 under. Others made big moves in the right direction, including Max Johnson (68) at 1 under, Yin Ho Yue (69) and Zack Byers (69) at 2 over, Collin Adams (69) and William Jennings (67) at 4 over, and Juan Ignacio Dubra (69) and Ryan Dupuy (69) at 5 over. Those rounds put all of them within the low 40 and ties, which is where the field will be cut following Friday's third round.
Aiken's Brian Quackenbush (74), the lone local in the field, is tied for 38th at 5 over.