Former star Gainesville and University of Georgia athlete and pro golfer Tommy Valentine died Saturday after a long battle with cancer. He was 64.
Valentine went toe to toe with golfing great Tom Watson at the 1981 Atlanta Classic, with Watson prevailing in the third playoff hole after both finished at 11-under 277.
“Here’s an old Red Elephant going hole-for-hole with Watson,” said Gainesville athletic director Wayne Vickery, who was on hand supporting Valentine that day.
Bradley Lawson of Gainesville also remembered being there that day as Valentine nearly prevailed against Watson. Valentine’s demeanor impressed Lawson.
“He had a good attitude,” Lawson said. “He laughed and was a lot of fun to be around. A lot of golfers are stoic and don’t say much.”
Lawson said the support for Valentine and 1973 Masters champion Tommy Aaron, also from Gainesville, when those two were playing was strong.
“Back then Gainesville really came out and followed those two golfers,” Lawson said. “They were local heroes.”
Valentine played for 12 years on the PGA Tour, achieving top-40 status. He earned 12 top-10 finishes, according to the PGA Tour website.
His best season was in 1981, when he earned four top-10 finishes, including a second and a third, and earnings of more than $97,000.
David Aaron, who went to school with Valentine from elementary school up through college, played little league baseball and high school football with Valentine.
“He was a natural with everything,” David Aaron said.
According to information in his obituary, he left the tour to serve as head golf pro in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., where he retired in 2009.
He was a Southeastern Conference champion golfer at the University of Georgia and was a first team All-America selection in 1970-71.
Prior to that, he earned nine varsity letters in football, basketball and golf at Gainesville High School and was an all-state quarterback.
Valentine suffered severe injuries after being struck by a car at age 11, but recovered to become a star athlete.
Valentine was born on Oct. 21, 1949, in Atlanta to the late Dr. Herbert Edward Valentine Jr. and Bonnelle Lawson Valentine.
He is survived by his mother, Bonnelle Lawson Valentine of Gainesville; his partner, Terry Tenaglia; two brothers, and a number of other relatives.
A memorial service is set for 2 p.m. Tuesday at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Gainesville. Little & Davenport Funeral Home in Gainesville is in charge of arrangements.