A Passion for Golf

Five years ago, Shelly Haywood’s life was happy and uncomplicated. She was an assistant golf professional at Tucson Country Club, working for her husband, Michael. She was able to satisfy her competitive side on the West Coast Ladies Golf Tour. She was an avid cyclist, eventually hoping to compete in a triathlon. And she was “mother” to her two cats, Paws and Newman. It was when Haywood added coaching to her resume that she realized what she really wanted to do. She led the Rincon High School girls’ team to a third-place finish in the state championship and coached Andrea Ratigan to the individual title. “I’ve always wanted to coach,” Haywood said. “I have a degree in Professional Golf Management at New Mexico State. And coaching at the college level is the ultimate.” But Haywood was out of the college loop, when a simple phone call changed all of that. “Greg Allen [U of A women’s golf coach] needed an assistant. He called me one night and asked my advice. I recommended Shelly,” said Dennis Palmer, director of golf at the Tubac Golf Resort and a former Wildcat golfer. Allen checked Haywood out with U of A men’s coach Rick LaRose and received another strong recommendation. He hired Haywood “I didn’t know Greg,” Haywood said. It didn’t take Haywood long to make her mark in women’s collegiate golf. After her first year she was given the LPGA’s highest coaching honor, National Coach of the Year. And she was still an assistant coach. “That meant a lot because it was voted on by my peers,” Haywood said. “After the 2007 season, there were lots of changes in college golf,” Haywood said. “The Vanderbilt job opened up, and I knew Greg would like to go there because it was close to where he grew up.” Vanderbilt hired Allen and it didn’t take U of A athletic director Jim Livengood long to name Haywood as the successor. “He said he felt it was an obvious choice to promote from within,” Haywood said. “I know what is expected here. Arizona has always been a top-10 program. And I played against Annika [Sorenstam] and Leta [Lindley].”
In three years Haywood was now in charge of one of the premier programs in women’s college golf, one that had produced the two most dominant players on the LPGA Tour in the past decade, Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa, and had won two national titles. Before taking the head job, Haywood learned quickly that there are definite road bumps in the world of college coaching. She helped recruit Juliata Granada from Columbia, one of the top prospects worldwide. Before enrolling at U of A, Granada turned professional. She has earned more than $2 million and won a tournament on the LPGA Tour. The next year Haywood helped land Esther Choe from Scottsdale, the American Junior Golf Association’s Girl’s Player of the Year. In April, however, after competing on a sponsor’s exemption in the LPGA’s Nabisco Championship, Choe also turned pro. “What really hurt is that both told us their decision late so we couldn’t sign anyone else,” Haywood said. Last season, her first as U of A head coach, Haywood lost her No. 2 player, Andriana Zwanck, early in the season. Zwanck said she was homesick for her home country, Spain. The Wildcats, definitely a player short, still managed to qualify for the NCAA championships once again. “Our best finish was third,” Haywood said. “We had three opportunities to win. But Alison Walshe did win three times.” So what is Haywood’s coaching style? “I tell everyone that passion is my favorite word,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you do, be passionate about it. I’ve learned not to be so intense. But I’m very competitive. I want to win.”
Haywood hired former Wildcat Laura Myerscough as her lone assistant. And her husband, Michael, is now her volunteer assistant. “I’d hire him even if we weren’t married,” Shelly said. “I think he’s the best teacher in the city.” Michael Haywood, who was named Professional of the Year by the Southwest Section PGA in 2007, said he doesn’t mind working for his wife, which is a complete reversal of roles from the past decade. “One of my proudest moments was watching her create her own identity and her own vision,” Michael said. “She hasn’t held back. She’s implemented her own style, and she has a work ethic second to none. She’s a traditionalist by nature. She’s about success, and she’s going to succeed.” In her first full year as Arizona head coach, Shelly Haywood has proven she can recruit. Her freshman class lists two-time Kentucky state champion Nikki Koller; No.1-ranked Mexican junior amateur Margarita Ramos; No. 1 French junior amateur
Isabelle Boineau and Mesa Red Mountain High School’s Ashley Malaska, daughter of PGA professional Mike Malaska. “We recruited some really good kids, and they’re all great students with above a 3.8 grade point average,” Haywood said. “I think definitely we’ll be a top-20 team. People don’t realize how good we’re going to be.” U of A also returns Alexandra Llaneza, a sophomore who will compete for Mexico in the World Amateur Championship in Australia in October. She recently finished third in the Canadian Women’s Amateur. “The four I’ve signed all said their dream was to be at the University of Arizona,” Shelly said. “If I’ve got to convince a kid to come to school here, I’m not going to want them on my team.” Besides good grades and a desire to attend U of A, Haywood also looks for prospects who are multi-sport athletes. “I love kids that are athletic enough to play other sports,” she said. “And I love good putters.” Haywood said her best finish on the West Coast Ladies Tour was third place. “I’m still a good player,” she said. “Sometimes we have a match, Laura [Myerscough] and me against the girls. We can keep up.” Now 41, Haywood’s goal of eventually competing in a triathlon is on hold. She still cycles regularly. “But you have to swim, and I just hate it,” she admits.