The Town Champ


(Courtesy of Niall Shiels Donegan)

By Jack Fierstein

Dew covers the Mill Valley Golf Course as the fog rolls in over Mt. Tamalpais. You can’t see much on the course at 6:30 a.m., but there is one thing that may catch your eye. Some might say, there is a master at work. Tamalpais High junior and local golf phenom, Niall Shiels Donegan, is 125 yards away from the green on hole 6 of the course he calls home. He hits ball after ball toward the flagstick, never missing the hole by more than about 20 feet. The sweet sound of the compression of each golf ball rings throughout the course as Shiels Donegan perfects his craft. Over the past year, Shiels Donegan has taken his game to a whole new level, and the hours he spends each morning working while others are likely sleeping, make his success no mistake. 

Shiels Donegan had always been around the game of golf growing up, but didn’t take it seriously until COVID-19 started. All he did during the pandemic was pound ball after ball in his garage. Shiels Donegan was able to perfect his craft in time for the Mill Valley Golf Course to reopen. The first test of his game was the Mill Valley Club Championship. Shiels Donegan had this date circled on his calendar. This was the event he was out to win. And to no one’s surprise; he did. “Playing at your home course for any tournament carries a bit more weight because you know the guys you’re playing against. And when you do beat them, it’s just a really special feeling,” Shiels Donegan said when asked about his first milestone victory. Winning The Club Championship solidified his title as the best golfer in town. Things only went up from here. 

Shiels Donegan spent last summer entirely in the United Kingdom. While overseas, he was able to compete in tournaments against some of the best amateur golfers in Europe. Shiels Donegan collected exceptional results in many tournaments in the U.K. To name a few, he finished as the top Scot at the Scottish U16 Championship, made it to the round of 16 at the Scottish Boys’ Matchplay Tournament and the Scottish Men’s Amateur Championship, and lost in the Semifinals in the British Boys’ Amateur, which is the top Amateur tournament in Europe. On top of all of that, he was asked to play for the Scottish National golf team. It would be safe to say, Shiels Donegan had a fantastic summer in the U.K.

Shiels Donegan’s family heritage is entirely in the U.K., which also happens to be where the home of golf is. With family in the U.K., he has been lucky enough to spend a lot of time there. He credits his time overseas to improving his physical game, but maybe more importantly, his mental outlook on the game. “It really strengthened my mindset as a golfer and I really learned the importance of grit and determination,” Shiels Donegan said, talking about what he learned from his time golfing in the U.K. He is adamant about how the golf atmosphere in the U.K. is more authentic than that of the U.S. “It’s way more community-like… once you play with someone, you get to know them very well and you build a sort of camaraderie that you don’t get over on the U.S. courses,” Shiels Donegan said. The sense of community he feels around golf in the U.K. keeps him coming back.

After Shiels Donegan got the nod for the Scottish 16u National Team, he felt a new responsibility each time he stepped foot on a golf course. He is not just representing himself on the course anymore, but representing an entire nation. “I want to start off by representing my country on a junior level… then try and represent my country on a national level as a pro or collegiate,” Shiels Donegan said. Playing for something other than himself is a new responsibility for him and he is more than ready to embrace the honor. In fact, he is so passionate about representing his country, he would be willing to do it on the biggest stage in all of golf. “The number one thing I want to accomplish in golf is to represent my country and all of Europe in the Ryder Cup. There is no better feeling than representing your country, and getting to do it at the highest level would be a huge honor,” Shiels Donegan said. The Ryder Cup is a biannual event where the top twelve best U.S. professional golfers face off against the top twelve best European professionals for the biggest event in golf. All golfers who get the opportunity to play in the event, claim it to be the best golf experience they have ever had. Shiels Donegan hopes to eventually experience the thrill of the Ryder Cup himself. 

While playing in the Ryder Cup is the goal he is aiming for, he recently took a huge step in his golf career that will boost him toward his end goal. On Sept. 24, Shiels Donegan announced his verbal commitment to Northwestern University. He is psyched to be a student-athlete at Northwestern, where he hopes to achieve success in academics and athletics. On top of that, he hopes to, “bring a great personality to the team and campus and be someone my teammates and peers can count on in the classroom and on the course.” He believes golf is a “selfish” sport and looks forward to the team aspect of college golf. “I have seen the camaraderie those guys have out on the course … and it brings out the best in all golfers when they are playing for someone other than themselves,” Shiels Donegan said. Similar to playing under the Scottish flag, Shiels Donegan is excited to represent more than just himself on the golf course. With big dreams and a bigger work ethic, Shiels Donegan hopes to be a force to be reckoned with on the golf course and a name you will see all over leaderboards in years to come.