WESTON, Florida – SPORTS – A sign of spring getting nearer. The PGA TOUR Canada Qualifying or Q-School has started.
When Benjamin Shipp signed up for the PGA TOUR Canada Qualifying Tournament, the Dothan, Alabama, venue was his first choice. When the Tour didn’t get assign him to that site, he began planning for his week here at The Club at Weston Hills. Shipp then realized his former college teammate at North Carolina State Easton Paxton was also in the field. A quick phone call to Paxton, still an amateur and playing for the Wolfpack, turned the two into roommates this week.
Pretty solid combo.
Shipp and Paxton are 1-2 on the first-round leaderboard of PGA TOUR Canada’s first Qualifying Tournament of seven events this year. Shipp fired a 5-under 67, with Paxton coming in with a 68. Canadian Anthony Brodeur and Germany’s Alexander Herrmann are tied for third, with a 2-under 70 during a first round played in cooler and sometimes extremely windy conditions.
“Sixty-seven is a really good score, obviously,” said Shipp, in his second year as a professional after graduating from NC State in 2020. “I hadn’t played a tournament since second stage of Korn Ferry Q-School (in the summer of 2021). I’ve had a lot of experience playing in wind in Florida, and it’s a different animal from where I’m from, in Georgia. I just know that stuff is going to happen.”
One thing the Duluth native didn’t anticipate was a hole-out eagle on his 11th hole of the day, No. 2. From 95 yards, he pulled a 50-degree wedge from his bag, cozied the ball onto the green and watched it land and trickle into the hole. That moved him to 5-under after he began his final nine at 2-under. He began his second nine with a birdie then picked up two more strokes with the eagle.
Shipp said his par-5 play was critical to his first-round success. “I think that’s a big key in tough conditions. Par-5s are a chance to get some shots back. When you’re playing those well, playing them stress-free, can keep a round going,” he continued. “I limited my mistakes. I didn’t feel like I did anything spectacular.
Like Shipp, Paxton had a bonus eagle, getting his day going with a 25-foot eagle putt at the par-5 third hole, draining it from the fringe. “I try to think about making everything. I thought about making that one, and it actually went in,” Paxton observed. He made it to 3-under through five holes and made the turn at 3-under after birdieing his ninth hole. He made it 5-under with two more birdies—giving him three in succession—at Nos. 1 and 2 before a bogey and five consecutive pars to finish gave him his 68.
- Did you know Easton Paxton played four years of varsity golf and basketball at Riverton High School in Wyoming? The golf team won the state championship in each of his four years, and in his senior year, with Paxton as the starting point guard, the Wolverines won the 3A state title, defeating defending state champion Worland, 62-34 for the school’s first title. Paxton scored 13 points in the championship game played in Casper.
How the Tournament Works
There are 112 players in this field. Below is a breakdown of the various PGA TOUR Canada membership statuses available this week.
|Medalist||Exempt membership for the 2022 season|
|2nd through 9th (no ties)
|Exempt through the reshuffle, which will occur approximately halfway through the season|
|10th through 30th (plus ties)||Conditional membership|
- There are 17 amateurs playing this week. Leading the way is Easton Paxton, alone in second place, a shot off the lead. Here is how all 17 fared in the first round.
- Players in this week’s field come from 13 different countries and territories. There are seven Canadians playing this week: amateurs Cougar Collins and Nick Hofland and professionals Anthony Brodeur, Brandon Lacasse, Marc–Olivier Plasse, AlexandreBelanger and Vito Polera.
- Originally, there were 14 different countries represented but Venezuela’s Jorge Garcia withdrew from the tournament prior to his tee time, with a neck injury.
- Benjamin Shipp had two bogeys to go with his five birdies and an eagle in the opening round. On both bogeys, he missed the green in regulation. On No. 16, his seventh hole, he put his tee shot on the edge of a fairway bunker. That trouble led to a missed eight-footer for par. On his 15th hole of the day, he had to essentially chip back into the fairway after trouble off the tee. “I just took my medicine there and two-putted,” he said.
- A pivotal turning point for Easton Paxton in the opening round came on his closing hole. After he deposited his drive in the fairway bunker on No. 9, he faced a poor lie on an upslope, the par-4 green protected by water on the left. “I was just trying to keep it on the right side of the course. I knew if that thing got up in the wind, water was in play,” said Paxton. “In those situations, you just have to trust your wedge play.” On his third shot, from about 70 yards, he pitched to three feet and rolled in the par save. “I felt like I was stealing one there,” he added.
- Germany’s Alexander Herrmann made the turn in 2-under Tuesday and immediately moved to 3-under with a birdie at his 10th hole, the par-5 first. A pair of bogeys, at Nos. 6 and 8, sandwiched around a birdie-4 at No. 7 left him tied for third with Canada’s Anthony Brodeur.
- There is a logjam of five players tied for fifth. Landon Michelson, David Powers, Kaiwen Liu and amateurs Joe McCarthy and Kieran Vincent.
- Amateur Joe McCarthy rallied late in his round. He double bogeyed his 14th hole, No. 5, but made birdies at Nos. 7 and 8 to finish at 1-under. The senior at the University of Cincinnati. Prior to transferring to Cincinnati, McCarthy played two seasons for DePaul.
- At the conclusion of this tournament, Easton Paxton will fly to Panama City Beach in Florida’s Panhandle and join his teammates for a college tournament at Shark’s Tooth Golf Club. He will play a practice round Saturday and then compete in the 54-hole, Sunday-to-Tuesday tournament.
- The par-4 15th hole played as the most difficult in the opening round. Only six players made birdie, and the stroke average was more than a stroke over-par (5.036). The par-5 12th was the easiest, with four eagles and 44 birdies (4.696).
The Players Say…
“Nothing felt spectacular, everything was really solid. Nothing was really lacking today.” – Benjamin Shipp on his opening round
“Easton is one of my best friends, and he’s one of the best competitors I’ve ever met. He is such a nice guy and he’s still a nice guy on the course, but he gets after it. He gets into it, and like me he’s really driven by competition. He can light it up with the putter some days. That putter can get hot. He’s an all-around really solid player. – Benjamin Shipp on this week’s roommate, Easton Paxton
“It felt like I was close a lot of weeks but couldn’t get over the hump, couldn’t get it going. It was a disappointing season, but it was also my first season on a pro tour, which I know is a tough adjustment. –Benjamin Shipp on his rookie Forme Tour season of 2021
“The season was disappointing, but like I said it was good early experience, and I realized how fortunate I was to play a full season right out of college. I learned a lot throughout that season.” –Benjamin Shipp on playing the Forme Tour
“I played really well today. I didn’t drive it particularly well, but I controlled my ball nicely in the wind. I hit a lot of greens.” –Easton Paxton
“I try to think about making everything. I thought about making that one, and it actually went in.” –Easton Paxton on his eagle putt from the fringe on No. 3
First-Round Weather: Overcast, with a high of 71. Wind NW at 10-13 mph, with gusts to 20 mph at various points during the day.