When Gabrielle Shipley and her sister Sarah Shipley teed off at the Symetra Tour’s FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship last year, it was special.
It was special because they were playing a professional tournament together for just the second time — on their home course.
But it was extra special because of the year they were having.
Gabrielle, a former NCAA champion at Grand Valley State, was coming off of her first LPGA event, the Meijer LPGA Classic, while Sarah had just won the Western Amateur and the Golf Association of Michigan’s Women’s Championship.
Now, the Shipleys return to the Battle Creek Country Club to compete again — together. Both were given a sponsor’s exemption for this week’s tournament that begins Friday.
“The opportunity again is a blessing. With the year being so unknown and not having a lot of status to reach some of these events, it comes at a really great time. It is another chance to go represent my community,” Gabrielle said. “I want to go out and prove I can do this and I want to keep fighting for it.”
Gabrielle had that fight last year, needing two birdies in the final three holes to make the cut, which she did, sparked by a 30-foot birdie putt.
“I knew where I was and knew I had to get something going. I drained a 30-footer on 16 and I made it happen. It was a huge finish,” she said. “It just shows that anything is possible. I can do it and I did it before. I put myself in position where I had to fight.”
While Sarah didn’t see Gabrielle’s finish, since she was still playing her round, she was still inspired by it.
“It was so exciting to hear. I was so happy for her. I know she had been to do what she did in past years. You are just so excited as a sister to see her be clutch and accomplish a goal,” Sarah said.
Both players still have big goals in the sport of golf with Sarah hoping to join Gabrielle in the professional ranks next year after her fifth-year season at Kentucky.
“If I didn’t have a fifth year (because of COVID-19), I would be out there trying to make a living at this,” she said. “It is huge. Now, it is an even bigger deal. It is more special with the situation with professional golfers. They are banking on exemptions, so it was even harder for us to get. The fact that my sister and I were given the exemption is even more special.”
The sisters trained together for some of the pandemic, living together in Lexington, where the cases were low and courses were open.
It allowed them to take some time and work on fine-tuning some details in their games.
“For me, it is adjusting small swing things here and there. I have been focusing on my putting a lot,” Gabrielle said.
“My putting has improved a lot. The couple of tournaments I played in, my putting has been my strong suit. I am continuing to work on the other parts of my game, but I still have to keep narrowing down on my putting,” she said.
The duo is hoping that short-game work will pay off this week.
“Both of us love to compete. Sarah has been scoring really low and always seems to give herself the opportunity to have a low round,” Gabrielle said. “To both be in the field and representing where we grew up playing is really cool. That doesn’t get to happen very often.”
— Follow Holland (Mich.) Sentinel Sports Editor Dan D’Addona on Twitter @DanDAddona and Facebook @Holland Sentinel Sports.