Back in 2014, Valdes was cast for the first commercial for the upstart national event, and he also was pictured in an ad for it.
A talented junior golfer, the Dr. Phillips resident and Orange Tree Golf Club member competed in the competition that year — and each year after — with the goal of making it to the event’s national finals, held at none other than Augusta National Golf Club.
But it wasn’t until this year that Valdes — now a freshman at Dr. Phillips High — finally was able to advance all the way through the local, sub-regional and regional rounds of the national tournament and make it to Augusta.
Of course, the local golfer did more than just make it to the mecca of golf in America. Valdes had a “Sunday moment” at Augusta National. He bested the competition April 1, even edging the event’s runner-up in a playoff tiebreaker, to win the 14-15 boys division of the 2018 Drive, Chip & Putt. Two-time Master’s winner Ben Crenshaw presented the championship trophy to Valdes.
Back practicing at his home course last week, where a banner hangs from the clubhouse to celebrate his accomplishment, Valdes couldn’t help but smile when describing the experience — and Augusta.
“Word can’t explain it,” Valdes said. “Just getting to one of the nicest courses of the world and being able to play on that course — to drive on that course and chip on that course, it’s mind-blowing. … It’s the perfect golf course.”
After coming up short in his past four tries, Valdes admitted he had some nerves when he arrived in Georgia, but he said he did his best to turn those into a positive.
“There are always going to be nerves — being at that golf course,” Valdes said. “You just have to use those nerves to your advantage.”
As the name would indicate, the event pits contestants against one another to see who can drive, chip and putt the best.
Valdes has had much success on juniors tours and was a top-10 finisher at the FHSAA Golf Championships as a freshman last fall, but he said the Drive, Chip & Putt — an event where competitors take just a handful of shots and only five of those count — requires a different skill set.
“It’s very, very, very different versus playing a two-day tournament,” Valdes said.
His success has led to some local and national attention. He has been interviewed on Golf Channel, among other national outlets, to cap a wild stretch of events since the first of the month.
“It’s been crazy; I’ve done tons and tons of interviews,” Valdes said. “Seeing that banner up here (at Orange Tree) — that’s amazing.”
There’s no rest for the wicked, though, and Valdes is back training daily at Orange Tree, with a competitive summer schedule of events in the AJGA and other junior golf tours ahead.
He said his experience only has served to motivate him. He enjoyed playing at Augusta National so much that he will do whatever it takes to make it back — even if that means qualifying for a tournament at which they hand out green jackets to the winner.
“I, for sure, want to get back there,” Valdes said. “Now I have to get (to Augusta) another way. Pretty much the only other way is to get to The Master’s.”