Santa Clara men, led by senior Hayden Shieh, enjoy meteoric rise

Santa Clara men, led by senior Hayden Shieh, enjoy meteoric rise

Men

Santa Clara men, led by senior Hayden Shieh, enjoy meteoric rise

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the Oct. 30, 2017 digital issue of Golfweek Magazine.

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Santa Clara’s position at 19th in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings is roughly 100 spots higher than usual. That’s not a jump – it’s a rocket launch. And senior Hayden Shieh ranks sixth individually, one below Braden Thornberry of Ole Miss, last year’s NCAA Player of the Year.

The Broncos seem to be taking their early success in stride, though Shieh is clear about the ultimate goal.

“I want to make (it into) a national championship at least one year,” said Shieh, who led the Broncos to a 1-2-1 start this fall. “It has to be this year.”

Santa Clara coach Robert Miller didn’t play college golf. Never worked in the industry. When he learned about a job opening at Santa Clara, Miller was simply making conversation with a guy in his group at a Northern California Golf Association qualifier.

That guy, John Colyar, was a family friend and fifth-year senior at Santa Clara. A month later they were paired again at an amateur event, and Miller inquired about the search. Colyar suggested that Miller apply, and before long the 50-year-old businessman found himself sitting in the office of an assistant athletic director, who asked for a resume.

“I just laughed,” Miller said. “I hadn’t submitted a resume to anywhere in 20 years.”

Miller was hired in July 2005. The Broncos had finished the previous spring ranked 148th. It wasn’t long before he realized they didn’t have a single tournament on the schedule for the fall season. Miller assumed there was a league schedule in place.

He picked up the phone and began cold-calling coaches, looking for a place to play.

“I had no clue what I was getting into,” said Miller, who leaned on longtime Cal coach Steve Desimone for guidance.

Miller spent 25 years working for Frank Dorsa Jr., owner of the Classic Car Wash chain whose father invented frozen waffles, a business that became Eggo. Miller, a Cal Berkeley grad with an MBA from UCLA, has experience as a CFO, controller and commercial lender.

Turns out he also had a knack for leading a team. The Broncos won a school-record four titles in Miller’s first season as head coach and advanced to the 2006 NCAA Regionals, another program first.

“It was me and the two seniors (Colyar and Michael Nicoletti),” Miller said. “The three of us just kind of learned together. We had a great time. They were a great good cop-bad cop.”

Miller’s out-of-nowhere route to Division I coach probably wouldn’t happen today. The pool of coaches is too deep, and schools across the board are investing more in their programs.

In fact, Santa Clara, a Jesuit university in Silicon Valley where tuition runs $65,000 a year, made a commitment to upgrade its entire athletic department. The men’s golf team recently became fully funded, increasing to 4.5 scholarships in 2018.

“We’re not going to get the Rickie Fowlers of the world,” Miller said. “We get kids that value coming in and playing early in their careers.”

That was a big selling point for Shieh, who also wanted to stay close to home to be near his lifelong instructor, Rick Dudley, and family. Shieh’s mother, Michelle, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis years ago, and he wanted to live at home to help.

In his first three years at Santa Clara, Shieh qualified for NCAA Regionals each season. He notched his third career title in October at The Jackrabbit by draining a 4-footer on the final hole.

Shieh didn’t compete last summer, as the accounting major took an internship in Palo Alto, Calif., with Ernst & Young. Stanford coach Conrad Ray allowed Shieh to practice at the Cardinal’s facility, which Shieh did faithfully for four hours after work each day.

A sprained elbow in August meant Shieh could only work on his wedges for three weeks before the start of the fall season. The power player’s short game has never been better.

“Freshman year I could hit a 4-iron closer than my wedge from 80 yards,” he said. “Not the greatest situation, since I really didn’t have 4-iron in that often.”

This year’s roster, Shieh said, is full of committed players. And he’s pushing them all into the spotlight.

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