Sports Illustrated writer helps coach middle school teams

For local Sports Illustrated writer Alan Shipnuck, playing 18 holes with Stephen Curry one day and then helping out on the Carmel Middle School soccer field the next is the usual.

Shipnuck, 41, is a Salinas native and senior writer for the most subscribed sports magazine in the U.S. He was also the assistant coach for Carmel Middle School’s third league-ranked girls’ soccer team and the assistant coach for the sixth and seventh grade girls’ basketball team.

Balancing both jobs has been difficult for the accomplished writer considering their demanding nature.

“It’s been a challenge to juggle everything,” Shipnuck says, “and it’s somewhat amazing I missed only one game when I was at the Ryder Cup in Minnesota. I’m currently working on a big feature on U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson. For the reporting, I spent a long day with him in southern California.”

With soccer practices Monday through Thursday every week and games scattered in between, finding time to fit his schedule has been tough, especially considering that Shipnuck has covered many of the world’s biggest sporting events in recent years: the Super Bowl, the Masters, the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship, the Ryder Cup and the Olympics, for which he spent 18 days in Rio de Janeiro.

Shipnuck (left) with U.S. Open champion and 2016 Player of the Year Dustin Johnson (right) his agent David Winkle at Sherwood County Country Club in Thousand Oaks.

Shipnuck (left) with U.S. Open champion and 2016 Player of the Year Dustin Johnson (right) his agent David Winkle at Sherwood County Country Club in Thousand Oaks.

Despite his current bustling life as a father, coach, writer and golfer that spans many different locations and jobs, it all began for Shipnuck quite simply. Since college, the only job Shipnuck has ever held is as a writer for SI. With a clear goal in 1994 as a 21-year-old intern, he wrote his first cover story for SI. Two years later when he was hired, he became the youngest staff writer in SI’s history.

But the story of his journey to the highest ranks of journalism began at a young age. In fact, it began with the very magazine for which he now writes.

Growing up as a seventh grader in Salinas, Shipnuck’s favorite magazine was Sports Illustrated. His father’s girlfriend was a subscriber, giving young Alan access to countless pages of sports literature. And so he began to collect sports stories and dissect them, finding patterns the writers used and effective journalism methods.

Beginning in middle school, Shipnuck has always been a part of the journalism world. He joined the newspaper at his middle school and then the yearbook in high school. However, it was in high school that his journalism career really took off.

“An important milestone for me came in my junior year of high school,” Shipnuck reminisces. “I was reading the Salinas Californian, and there was a little ad that said, ‘Sports Writers Wanted.’ So I just called them up, and they gave me a one-game trial. Even though I was only 16, I had been doing it since seventh grade and knew what I was doing. And when the editor had finished reading my story, he asked me, ‘Are you sure you’ve never done this before?’”

Shipnuck was hired and covered sports for his junior and senior years. He slowly began making a name for himself, his stories even reaching the front page.

And as high school came to end, he enrolled at UCLA, partly due the school’s fantastic newspaper, the Daily Bruin.

“I used to fly to football and basketball games in Arizona and Washington and Oregon,” the writer says. “It was incredible. It was like working for the LA Times except I was still in school.”

And while he developed himself as a writer through the school year, the real opportunity came for him during his summer jobs.

He’d always come home in the summers and, starting senior year in high school, work as a cartboy at Pebble Beach Golf Links. There, he met a man named Mark Mulvoy, the managing editor at Sports Illustrated.

“He was the top guy, the big cheese,” Shipnuck jokes. “He is retired now, but he is a legend in magazine circles. I told him my dream in life was to write for his magazine. He gave me his card and every few months, when I was down at UCLA, I’d send him a letter. I never got a response, but kept sending the letters.”

Two years later, the summer of 1993, Mulvoy came out again to Pebble Beach. Though he never responded to any of Shipnuck’s many emails, he knew they existed.

“It did demonstrate a certain amount of hustle and determination,” Shipnuck explains. “And the timing was perfect as SI began expanding its golf coverage. He wound up giving me an internship, and I dropped out of UCLA for a year and moved to New York on January 2, 1994.”

SI had underestimated the advertiser interest there would be in a new section called Golf Plus, which was expanded golf coverage going to subscribers. Golf at the time wasn’t covered too heavily, but Mulvoy was a huge golfer.

As golf began taking off in the U.S., advertisers came flocking, and stories were in high demand. With writers under great stress to produce articles, the Salinas native was put out there to do a few smaller stories to help take the pressure off the writers.

The stories kept getting bigger and bigger as Shipnuck continued to write. And by the end of his internship, he wrote a cover story on the baseball player Ken Griffey Jr. With this feature story, his employment after college was basically secured.

Alan Shipnuck eventually found his way back home to the Monterey Peninsula. The fact that one of the world’s greatest golf courses and many prominent events are always around the corner was just a major bonus.

He has been the main golf writer for SI since the mid-1990s.

“There’s a literary tradition in golf,” Shipnuck notes. “There’s always been a lot of great writers. In SI you go from Herbert Warren Wind to Dan Jenkins to Rick Reilly, three of the greatest sports writers of all time. And golf was their beat, so there’s some legacy there.”

Starting in January, Shipnuck will have his own website in Golf.com called “Backspin” that will have podcasts, videos, articles and his other work.

“I do miss the days where print was king, but those days are gone,” Shipnuck explains as he continues the shift to a more digital news world. As he says, “You have to adapt.”

-Evan Patel