John Shippen plans five exemptions to Black golfers, including into Rocket Mortgage Classic

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

The John Shippen is back — and it's reach is growing.

The tournament leading up to the tournament at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, which was launched in Detroit in 2021 to provide more opportunities for top Black amateur and professional golfers, is returning for 2022, and will offer five exemptions across the PGA and LPGA tours.

The John Shippen is named after the Untied States' first Black golf professional.

Timothy O'Neal celebrates on the 18th green after winning The John Shippen in 2021.

“Building on the impact of the event’s inaugural year, The ohn Shippen is introducing additional professional exemption opportunities that expand to new markets — creating more year-round exposure and Black representation in golf,” said Jason Langwell, executive director of the Rocket Mortgage Classic and executive vice president of Intersport, which founded The John Shippen.

“The Intersport and Rocket Mortgage teams are passionate about diversity, equity and inclusion and we partner with organizations committed to making a difference with their mission. This is why we’re particularly proud to be announcing the second annual event — which aims to address barriers that have prevented talented Black golfers and aspiring business professionals.” 

The men's portion of The John Shippen again will take place in the days before the RMC, on Saturday and Sunday, July 23-24. The winner will receive a spot in the Rocket Mortgage Classic, set for July 28-31. Tim O'Neal, then 48, won the inaugural event. Rocket Mortgage also sponsored him during tournament week.

The women's wing of The John Shippen, which took place the same time and place as the men's in 2021, will move to a new location and date. They will play June 1-2 at Blythefield Country Club in Belmont, just outside Grand Rapids. The winner of the event will get an exemption into the Meijer LPGA Classic, set for June 16-19, at Blythefield, as will as an exemption into the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland on July 13-16. Since the Great Lake Bay Invitational is a two-person team event, the winner will get to choose their partner for that event. The partner can be anybody, not necessarily another Shippen participant.

Both the men's and women's John Shippen tournaments will be 36-hole stroke-play qualifiers.

Said Cathy Cooper, executive director of the Meijer LPGA Classic, which is new to The John Shippen: “We’re honored to be part of this inclusive statewide effort that extends to communities across Michigan and proud to offer an exemption into the Meijer LPGA Classic this June.” 

Said Chris Chandler, executive director of the Great Lakes Bay Bay Invitational, which offered exemptions to The John Shippen winners last year, too: "We couldn’t be more thrilled to continue our support of this influential event, which promises to raise recognition for Black female golfers."

Flint's Shasta Averyhardt won the inaugural John Shippen women's tournament in 2021.

Additionally, there will be The John Shippen Shoot-Out, an 18-hole event in New Jersey on May 9. The winner of that gets into the LPGA's Cognizant Founders Cup in Clifton, New Jersey, set for May 12-15.

The John Shippen was launched last year in a joint effort between Rocket Mortgage, Intersport and Woods & Watts Effect, to break down the barriers that often exist for Black golfers seeking opportunities. Founders deemed it significant to launch the event in Detroit, the nation's most predominantly Black city.

O'Neal won the men's event and Flint native Shasta Averyardt and South Carolina alum Anita Uwadia won the women's event, playing as a team as the prize was a spot in the LPGA team event in Midland.

The event drew rave review from the competitors, as well as from the PGA Tour, which has had talks about adding similar events across the country. The John Shippen is the first of its kind; there are tournaments that offer annual special exemptions to Black players, like the Genesis Invitational, which awards the Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption. That went to Flint's Willie Mack in 2021.

"I don't think you could've been more successful as an inaugural event, and as an organization," PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan told The News last September. "The PGA Tour, alongside all our industry partners, have a commitment to growing diversity in the sport."

At the inaugural John Shippen, the men's field included 20 golfers and the women's field 12 — a mix of amateurs and pros — with the tournament paying players' travel, lodging and meal expenses.

Also back in 2022 is The John Shippen Sports Business Summit, which brought together leaders in the golf industry and hundreds of Black college students interested in getting into the business. The event went virtual in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic; it is expected to a hybrid of virtual and in-person in 2022.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984