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Gainesville Athletics Hall of Fame: Outgoing Tommy Valentine always represented hometown well during professional golf career
Valentine was a state championship golfer, all-state quarterback in football for the Red Elephants
Tommy Valentine
Gainesville High graduate Tommy Valentine sinks a putt during a PGA Tour event. Photo courtesy Mike Valentine

Tommy Valentine always took a lot of pride in being from Gainesville. 

He had a big personality, never met a stranger and was part of the glue to a prominent family who were all expected to become successful in life. 

“Tommy was, first of all, a people person,” his youngest brother Mike said. “He was someone who valued his life-long friendships.”

And, in sports, Tommy was a natural at Gainesville High. 

He was a multi-sport standout for the Red Elephants in the 1960s, but golf is where he flourished and made it professionally. 

On Tuesday, Tommy Valentine will posthumously be inducted into the Gainesville Athletics Hall of Fame during a banquet at The Chair Factory in Gainesville. He died in 2014 at the age of 64.

Also being inducted will be Billy Lothridge, Stephanie (Yarem) Ransom, Dr. Tim Fulenwider and Patrick Hamilton. The Gainesville High three-peat baseball programs (1996-1998) will also be honored.  

Mike Valentine will be on hand to represent the family and, no doubt, share stories about his gregarious older brother. 

“Tommy’s cell phone never stopped ringing,” Mike said. 

Valentine’s career on the PGA Tour, which spanned 12 years and included 12 Top-10 finishes, was a big success. Tommy Valentine came along during a cycle when Gainesville High continued to turn out illustrious athletes, highlighted by 1973 Masters champion Tommy Aaron.

“Gainesville was such a magical community,” Mike Valentine said. “Not only was greatness expected, but it was supported.” 

The highlight of Tommy Valentine’s pro golf career was the 1981 Atlanta Open, when he went toe to toe with nine-time major champion Tom Watson. It was a thrilling weekend that was knotted with the two golfers at 11-under par after 18 holes Sunday, forcing a playoff that Watson won with a chip-in shot on the third extra hole. 

To this day, Mike remembers that weekend with this brother handling the pressure with such grace and poise. In fact, Tommy would take time to do interviews on-air with CBS crew members who were walking the course with the players. 

Mike said that open and friendly demeanor is exactly who his brother was all his life. 

“That showed Tommy’s character and how he maintained those relationships,” said Mike, the youngest of Dr. Herb and Bonnelle Valentine’s four sons.

Valentine flourished in golf at Gainesville High, but didn’t give up any of his other sporting passions. Tommy was quarterback and punter of the football team and point guard in basketball. Tommy earned a combined nine varsity letters for his participation in football, golf and basketball at Gainesville. 

In 1967, Valentine was crowned the state champion for Class 2A in golf, in addition to being an all-state quarterback in football. 

Mike suspects football was also his older brother Tommy’s first passion.  

At a modest 5-foot-10, 170 pounds in high school, Tommy Valentine was a fearless blocker out of the backfield for the Red Elephants in football. He garnered interest from smaller schools like Furman and Wofford for football, but instead took a partial scholarship to play golf at the University of Georgia. 

It was a decision he would not regret. 

For the Bulldogs, Valentine was an SEC champion, as well as earning first-team All-American honors in 1970 and 1971. 

Once he turned pro, Valentine’s best season in the PGA was 1981. He had four top-10 finishes that season. 

In his prime, Mike said his older brother was close friends with many of the top players on the Tour. Tommy would also hit the course with his friends June Jones and quarterback Steve Bartkowski of the Atlanta Falcons, his brother said. 

However, Valentine always remained loyal to his family and friends from Hall County and the University of Georgia. 

“Despite his own personal drive, Tommy built his life around relationships and bringing friends and family together and living life to the fullest,” Mike said. 

After retiring from playing professionally, Valentine served as head golf pro in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., where he retired in 2009.

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