”Then and Now” is a series that focuses on former Treasure Valley high school athletes and where they’re at now.
Max Sheils’ garage has more than a dozen old winning golf scorecards plastered on the walls.
As much as he probably wants them to be, they’re not his. They belong to his youngest daughter, Madeleine Sheils, the 2008 Bishop Kelly graduate who just wrapped up a five-year professional career.
Sheils — now Stanford University women’s assistant golf coach — became the first women’s golfer from Boise to ever play on the LPGA Tour, playing in 24 events and making almost $53,000 in career earnings in two seasons with three top-40 finishes.
“I’m really proud of what I’ve done and I’m so grateful for the game of golf and everything that it has granted me,” Sheils said. “I’m also grateful for the opportunity to chase the dream and to be able to know what it feels like to have a specific goal in mind and work really hard to get there. I probably got further than I ever should have.”
Sheils was a five-time state champion at Bishop Kelly High School. She won the 4A individual girls state title as a freshman in 2005 before leading the Knights to four straight team championships (2005-08).
On the national stage, Sheils was the PGA Junior Series Champion (2007) and the winner of the Big I Insurance Junior Classic at Crane Creek Country Club that same year. It all resulted in her being the No. 29 prospect in the country according to Polo Golf Rankings and landing at the University of Nebraska.
Sheils was selected to the NCAA Tournament her senior year with one win and seven top-10 finishes. She left as just the fourth Husker to earn four Scholastic All-America awards and with the second lowest career scoring average (76.88) in program history. Sheils then became the first woman out of Nebraska to turn pro, doing so in January of 2013.
“There wasn’t anything that I found in college that struck a chord with me quite like golf did,” Sheils said. “Knowing I had some success that senior year, I figured I had a shot at being able to make a living, so I wanted to give it a go.”
Sheils started out on the Symetra Tour, the LPGA’s developmental tour, earning her only professional win there at the FireKeeper’s Casino Hotel Championship in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 2015. She played in the LPGA for the first time by winning a Monday qualifier for the Portland Classic in Oregon in August of 2014. She didn’t make the cut, finishing at 6-over par.
Her LPGA Tour debut as a member came at the Lotte Championship in Kapolei, Hawaii, on April 12, 2017. She carded a 7-over par and failed to make the cut.
Over the course of her LPGA career, she practiced with or was paired up with the likes of Ariya Jutanugarn, the LPGA Player of the Year last season; Lydia Ko, a former No. 1 golfer in the world; and Lexie Thompson, who is ranked third right now. Sheils’ best finish was a tie for 35th at the Marathon Classic in Toledo, Ohio, on July 20, 2017.
“It was a bit of a pinch myself moment of, ‘Oh my God, I’ve actually done it,’” Sheils said. “I remember just being in awe playing in my very first practice round with Cristie Kerr. I was just so excited to finally be out there and say, ‘I play on the LPGA Tour.’”
But Sheils never earned full-time status on the LPGA Tour. The closest she ever came was during the 2016 and 17 LPGA Qualifying Tournaments. The top 20 golfers there earn full-time status on the LPGA Tour the following season. She missed out by a single stroke both years.
“That’s the funny thing about professional golf where I wouldn’t have traded those years or the world because I’m chasing my dreams, traveling, playing golf every day,” Sheils said. “But there were also a lot of times where I found myself crying on a hotel bed and being in a stranger’s house staying for the week calling home sobbing.”
It’s part of why Sheils decided to call it a career in January.
After finishing outside the top 100 in the money list (146) in 2018, Sheils had to play in the LPGA Qualifying Tournament — again — on Nov. 3. But she wasn’t even close to earning her spot on the LPGA Tour this time around. Sheils was 92nd at 27-over par, 17 strokes back from qualifying.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, what kind of desk job am I going to have to get after this?’” Sheils said.
She had never thought that way before.
But Sheils took a few months off to think about it first, talking with family and friends. The decision came on a blog post on her personal website on Jan 24. The title simply read: “Saying farewell to life on tour.”
“It was a lot of soul searching and nobody really has the answer for ‘do you still have the desire to put your heart into this anymore?’” Sheils said. “Nobody has an answer for you other than yourself.
“I felt like there was a good chance that I had already hit my maximum. And sure, there’s always the possibility that I was right on the cusp of breaking through, and I could have gotten it done if I put a couple more years in. But I no longer felt the risk and the mental toll that it would take to possibly have that payoff was worth it.”
Sheils got married on June 22 and two days later was announced as the new assistant women’s golf coach at Stanford University.
The Cardinal are one of only three programs that have finished in the top 8 in each of the last five seasons. They won a national title in 2015 and were runner-up the following year.
“I was looking all over the place, not sure what I wanted to do next, but this opportunity came up at Stanford, and it was such an amazing chance to keep my hand in the golf world,” Sheils said. “It felt like a really natural transition out of playing. I was just so honored to be able to work with their program that it was a no-brainer.”
As was picking up a golf club at the age of 5.
She has the scorecards to prove it.
“Every time I’m back home and look at those I get quite nostalgic,” Sheils said. “It’s just sweet to reminisce on my career like that.”