By Joe Gladziszewski
One of the great challenges in playing golf is that perfection is unattainable. For even the best golfers in the world, the success of a round is based both on the finely-struck shots, and also those that are inaccurate. How a player responds when a tee shot finds the rough or an approach shot misses the putting surface goes a long way to determining his score on that particular hole and eventually the round that he’s playing.
As a freshman on the Tompkins Cortland Community College men’s golf team, Ithaca native and 2015 Ithaca High School graduate Collyn Shippos has enjoyed plenty of success. But one of the keys to that success is his poise in dealing with the bad times. He showed his maturity recently at the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 3 Championships, which were held at the Robert Trent Jones Course at Cornell University on May 9-10.
In the two-round event, Shippos started with a score of 84. He came back the following day to post a round of 77, his lifetime best score for 18 holes at the course he plays often. His two-round total of 161 placed him sixth in a field of 43 golfers. He qualified for the NJCAA Championships by placing in the top-15 at the regionals.
“I struggled with it in high school. If I hit a bad shot I would dwell on it,” Shippos says of his mental approach to golf. “This year I looked at it as a new year. I wanted to use one good shot and use it to hit the next one. Every stroke counts.”
Golf courses are also known as venues of quiet, but in helping clear his mind from shot to shot, Shippos relies on music. Although he largely prefers to listen to rap and hip hop away from the course, he says that he’ll reset his concentration on the golf course by thinking through upbeat country songs in his head as he prepares to hit his next shot.
“One of the things we’ve worked on as a team is the thought, ‘Don’t be a hero.’ When you miss a shot, get back into play. Don’t turn a bogey into a double- or triple-bogey,” TC3 men’s golf head coach Mick McDaniel says. “Collyn showed this year that he can stop the bleeding. That’s one of the things he concentrated on, and it shows.”
Shippos’ first exposure to golf came at age three with a trip to a driving range with his father. He played throughout his childhood and eventually earned a spot on the Ithaca High School varsity team as an eighth-grader. He played five years of high school golf, was a Section IV and New York State Tournament qualifier in that time, and now tees it up for the Panthers.
During the 2016 regular season, which began in mid-April and consisted of eight single-round tournaments over a three-week span, Shippos’ scoring average and his individual standing in those events improved. He tied for third place with a score of 78 at the Genesee Community College event in Batavia, and followed that up with a second-place showing by shooting 77 at the Jefferson Community College tournament in Watertown.
“We get to hit a lot of balls in our field house over the winter, which is good for working on swing repetition. Once we were able to get out on the course, being able to actually play for three or four weeks straight, that’s when he developed more consistency,” McDaniel says. “He started to finish off his rounds better. He was playing well, swinging well, but the last few holes weren’t very strong. Now he’s focused on the round through to the end.”
The NJCAA Championships will be held on the Lake Course of the Chautauqua Golf Club in the southwestern corner of the state. The event begins with practice rounds on June 6, and the four-round championship will be played June 7-10. Jamestown Community College serves as the host institution for the event, which has been held at Chautauqua for the past 17 years. The course’s characteristics include small greens and narrow fairways. It favors accuracy and precision over distance and power.
The field will be comprised of some 90 golfers and includes players from across the nation, including those who have been afforded longer seasons due to warmer climates in southern states such as Georgia and South Carolina. The top 18 finishers at the nationals earn All-America recognition. TC3’s team was scheduled to compete in a tournament at Chautauqua earlier this season but it was canceled due to an accumulation of snow on the course.
Shippos will be joined at the national tournament by teammate Antonio Triana, a native of Cortland and a graduate of New Roots Charter School in Ithaca. Triana tied for 15th place at the regionals with scores of 85 and 81 for a two-day total of 166.
For Shippos, having a teammate along will help both players in their quest for success at the national event. In addition to providing friendship and moral support, there is an advantage to discussing strategy and comparing notes during practice rounds at an unfamiliar site.
“It will be nice to have a teammate there,” Shippos says. “It’s always nice to have extra support, and we can go over the course. We know each other’s strengths and where we want to be on certain holes.”
McDaniel, who is also the institution’s Director of Athletics, sees this 2016 team as one that is helping re-establish the Panthers among the elite programs in the NJCAA. TC3 regularly qualified for the national tournament as a team in the mid-2000s with a highest finish of fourth in 2008. The Panthers had an individual national champion in 2008 (Kris Boyes) and Clint Chaffee had back-to-back top-10s at the nationals in 2005 and 2006.
By Joe Gladziszewski