Jupiter native Emily Valentine first picked up golf after her grandmother introduced her to the game; she suggested Valentine borrow her old clubs during high school. The game of golf ended up changing Valentine’s life. Now, Valentine not only plays on Palm Beach Atlantic University’s golf team, but she gives back to the community through the game she loves.
Prior to picking up a golf club for the first time six years ago, Valentine said her life was uneventful. Valentine joined Jupiter High School’s golf team in 2011 after making the team by default; she gained many lasting friendships in the process.
While Valentine played golf for the Jupiter High Warriors, her mother was in a relationship with a staff member of The First Tee; this man recommended Valentine be brought to the organization for lessons. PGA of America member and First Tee of the Palm Beaches Coach Craig Watson greeted Valentine at the doors of the organization’s West Palm Beach building, and invited her to help run classes at The First Tee with members of the Boys and Girls Club.
“He just kind of threw me in and hoped I would swim. . . and I did,” Valentine said.
Valentine was able to collect volunteer hours for school and free lessons from Watson because of her efforts; more importantly, she fell in love with teaching. Valentine credits Watson as being her mentor throughout high school.
“If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be playing golf, I wouldn’t be teaching golf, I wouldn’t be involved with The First Tee,” Valentine said.
Watson is responsible for building The First Tee of the Palm Beaches and for the success it has reached, according to Valentine. He believes Valentine is unique among other participants of The First Tee.
“She recognized the opportunities that The First Tee provides to any participant,” Watson said. “She wanted to make sure that she took advantage of them, and she has. . . she has gone full circle all the way to becoming a coach but also a scholarship athlete.”
After realizing her love for teaching and mentoring young golfers, Valentine decided to pursue coaching as a career. By her sophomore year of high school she became an assistant coach, and quickly moved up in the coaching ranks thereafter.
During The First Tee’s 2015 fundraising tournament held at Jack Nicklaus’ The Bear’s Club, Valentine gave a speech discussing her career and plans for college. As a known success story, Valentine’s speech moved the audience; it landed her an opportunity she would never have expected.
First Tee trustee Bob Simses addressed Valentine following her speech; the two had never met before. He offered to pay her full college tuition, which Valentine at first could not fathom.
This unique connection allowed her to attend PBA in pursuit of a business degree. PBA came as an easy choice to Valentine because it is close to home and would allow her to keep her job and connections at The First Tee, she said. Although she is able to play on the university’s golf team, this did not weigh heavily on her decision.
“Don’t get me wrong I love playing golf. . . but it’s not something I’m going to do in the long term,” Valentine said.
Southeast section LPGA Vice-President and Program Director of The First Tee Connie Capanegra attended the most recent board meeting alongside Valentine. Capanegra speaks highly of Valentine’s passion for teaching and feels privileged to have her as a part of the Palm Beach chapter of The First Tee.
“She’s great because she knows how it is to be a student. After being a student you know how to deliver the class and connect with the students way better,” Capanegra said.
Now considered “The First Tee Coach,” Valentine received recognition in November at The First Tee’s board meeting in Orlando, Florida for her promotion. She is also the youngest “The First Tee Coach” ever, at only 20 years of age. The majority of First Tee coaches who reach this ranking are at least 30 years old, according to Valentine.
“Going to work every day, teaching golf, is not really work. It’s just something I love doing,” Valentine said.
Valentine plans to be a master coach in the near future, which is the highest coach ranking; this role requires the coach to invent a new way of teaching unlike any previous idea. She is in the process of inventing, but has no serious plan yet.
Her favorite parts of coaching are serving as a mentor for the children she teaches, having fun and introducing the unique game to those excited to learn.
“Golf is unlike any sport. . . you have to call penalties on yourself, you have to exemplify life skills which we teach and it’s all about you,” Valentine said.
A believer in giving back, Valentine is working on ways to help kids grow with the game. In 2018, Valentine’s goal is to kick off a Teen Advisory Board within The First Tee; the board will consist of 10 top teenage participants of The First Tee and aims to establish connections and relationships with First Tee affiliates.
“Yeah I’ve received all these things and gone to all these great events and had everything basically fall in my lap. But I try and stress that with everything you are given you’re supposed to take it, turn around, and give it back,” Valentine said.
According to Valentine, The First Tee is not a golf academy; golf is a vehicle towards teaching life skills. The organization is focused on teaching children its nine core values: respect, responsibility, perseverance, confidence, judgment, courtesy, sportsmanship, honesty and integrity. Teaching the golf swing is secondary.
Valentine personally connects with the core value of perseverance due to trauma she experienced as a child. Her parents divorced while she was in elementary school and have lingering unresolved issues; Valentine took on the responsibility of being a leader and helping her siblings through the rough separation. She believes it is important to never give up hope.
Five-year-old Reef Wilkes, a participant in a class at The First Tee Valentine leads every Saturday, learned he must be respectful of his surroundings. Wilkes’ favorite part of golf is putting; Valentine spends time with him on the putting green to enhance his technical skills and teach valuable life lessons through golf.
First Tee of the Palm Beaches Level Two Coach Katelyn Keen began working alongside Valentine one year ago. Despite being several years older than Valentine, she finds herself looking up to the success Valentine reached through the program and accepts her constructive criticism.
“I’ve gotten a lot of ideas from her, I bounce a lot of ideas off of her just for her input because she’s done it,” Keen said.
In 2014, Valentine participated in the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach as a representative of the Palm Beach chapter; this event is one of her fondest memories. She looks forward to continuing classes at The First Tee and plans on teaching golf for the rest of her life. As far as her own golf game, she will tee it up with her golf team for their first spring tournament in February.