With talent in abundance the right support and development, the only way is up for Devon Valentine
WATCH Devon wins the Zimbabwe Junior Golf Open in style
Devon Valentine wins the Zimbabwe Junior Golf Open in style
Guess who is going to the 2024 Zimbabwe Open? Devon Valentine booked his spot in the field for the Sunshine Tour showstopper after winning the 2023 Zimbabwe Junior Golf Open on Sunday, 21 August. The SAGDB golfer was one off the pace after an opening round of three-under-par 69 and slept on a one-shot cushion after carding 74 in the second round. In a thrilling final round battle, Valentine forced a play-off when he chipped it to give on the 18th and tapped in for par and closing round of 75 to tie Ethan Fichardt on two-over 218. The GolfRSA National Squad member celebrated his international breakthrough in style when he eagled the first extra hole to secure the title.
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One of the key focus areas of the South African Golf Development Board’s mission – other than golf development and related skills – is to contribute to nation-building by empowering children from all walks of life with skills to develop into positive role models in their communities, through discipline and values they learn through the game.
For an ambitious, yet humble, prodigy like Eastern Province Golf Union’s Devon Valentine, the SAGDB programme was a perfect match.
Born and raised in the small township of Kuyga near Greenbushes in the Eastern Cape, Valentine’s life could have turned out like many other youngsters growing up in a poverty-stricken community, whose bright futures get ruined by their circumstances.
Fortunately for the 18-year-old Wedgewood Golf Club junior, the game of golf and the SAGDB entered his life and his future was reshaped.
“I grew up in a township like other ones where you find drugs and crime and other things, but thanks to my dad, who introduced me to golf at an early age, and the SAGDB, golf has taken me on a different journey to many kids who grow up in the township,” says Valentine. Valentine was 12 years old when he caught the eye of Eastern Province SAGDB manager Frans de Kock. “I remember getting goosebumps when I first saw Devon hitting balls at a junior tournament. Although it was quite raw, he already had a good swing, but his ball striking was superb, and I could sense there was something special in him.
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Devon Valentine fires a new tournament record four-under-par 68 at the Gary Player Country Club to co-lead the first round of the 2023 Nedbank Junior Challenge at Sun City.
“One thing that always stood out about Devon was that when he failed, it only served as motivation to do better. Having gotten to know Devon over the past six years, I can truly say he is the most humble, hard-working guy you will ever come across. He is strong, hits the ball far and straight and he has an excellent short game. I really think he has a bright future if we can continue to support him and give him the right playing opportunities.”
With the help of SAGDB coaches, Valentine honed his skills and began making his mark on the national junior golf scene.
Having gotten to know Devon over the past six years, I can truly say he is the most humble, hard-working guy you will ever come across. He is strong, hits the ball far and straight and he has an excellent short game
– Frans de Kock
In 2021, as Eastern Province brushed aside all its challengers to win the B Section of the South African Inter-Provincial Tournament at San Lameer, much of the credit deservedly went to the team’s undefeated pair of Kyle de Beer and Altin van der Merwe. But, while the duo’s experience played a key role in the successful promotion battle, there was also the exciting emergence of one of the province’s hottest young prospects.
Just 16 at the time, Valentine looked very much at home against some of the country’s seasoned veterans in his debut and the rookie finished the week having contributed five points to the team’s total, including three out of five singles wins.
So impressed was team captain Van der Merwe that he singled Valentine out in his winning speech.
“I put him with me in the singles in round four, and he hit the ball beautifully,” he said. “I am so impressed with him. He drives the ball well and he putts beautifully. He made a lot of crucial par saves when his opponents hit it close on the last three days, and he is definitely someone to watch out for.”
Along his development route, Valentine enjoyed the kind of success that encouraged him to take his golf seriously. Decent showings in national tournaments such as the Cape Town Junior Open, where he placed fifth, earned him a golf scholarship to attend Grey High School in Port Elizabeth.
He validated the trust Grey High put in him when he made his debut for the school’s A team in the 2022 SA High School Championship at Humewood Golf Club, where he shared the Individual medallist honours and contributed to the team's third-place finish.
Then, in December 2022, the teenager came into his own when he helped the Eastern Province junior side secure the coveted promotion in the SA U-19 Inter-Provincial. Not only the banker for the team, Valentine also tied for the Most Valuable Player honours with a clean Singles scorecard at Mbombela Golf Club.
Humble to a fault, Valentine acknowledges the SAGDB for the course his career, and life, took.
“I think my development is coming along nicely, and its thanks to the SAGDB and the support they have given me. It’s tough for many kids who come from townships to get to where I am. I definitely would not have achieved any of this if the SAGDB had not given me the opportunities to excel and improve.
“Golf is challenging and school is also tough, but I try to find a balance. Sometimes we are away for long stretches, and I take my books with me to tournaments so that I can catch up at the hotel or wherever we are staying. You have to make the sacrifices if you want to succeed.
“I am very lucky to have amazing support from my family, my school, the SAGDB, GolfRSA, Grey High and the Eastern Province Golf Union. It hasn’t been easy for my parents. I have five brothers and three sisters. But my mom and dad and my older brother, who used to play golf, and my younger brother, who also plays, are amazing. They are always in my corner and their support and belief in me inspires me to work hard and reach for greater heights.”
All that support, combined with his own discipline and desire to become a better player and human, have led to great things for Valentine who is ranked 19th in the GolfRSA U-19 standings.
Valentine really started to show his class this year. In March, he finished third in the Nomads South African Junior International Boys and shortly after the 2023 Nedbank Junior Challenge in May, where he finished 13th in a field of the top-ranked juniors in the country, he received the nod to join the GolfRSA National Squad.
He was also selected to represent South Africa in his first international start and didn’t disappoint. He finished joint fourth in the Boys 15-18 age category in the Mandiri Ciputra Golfpreneur Junior World Championship, and placed sixth overall in Indonesia in an event that drew top juniors from across the globe.
“I have always dreamed of representing South Africa and it was such an honour to play in Jakarta, knowing that I am making everyone at home proud. And to be inducted in the GolfRSA National Squad was the highest honour of all. To be part of a programme that has produced golfers like Garrick Higgo, Wilco Nienaber, Jayden Schaper, Casey Jarvis and Martin Vorster is beyond my wildest dreams. I am incredibly grateful to the SAGDB and GolfRSA for giving me the tools to further my career. I just want to give it my all and perform to the best of my ability so that I can make my community proud.”
The experience gained over the past 12 months showed in early August.
The Eastern Cape teenager adapted well to the winter conditions on the highveld to produce a masterclass performance in the 2023 High Schools Championship, winning the Individual Competition and leading Grey High School’s A Team to a runner-up finish at Reading Country Club.
I have always dreamed of representing South Africa and it was such an honour to play in Jakarta, knowing I am making everyone at home proud. And to be inducted in the GolfRSA National Squad was the highest honour of all
- Devon Valentine
Like any young athlete who is in the early stages of their craft, Valentine harbours lofty and yet noble dreams.
“My first goal is to pass my matric well. Then my aim is to win a GolfRSA and an Eastern Province men’s tournament. I’d love to have the chance to go on the GolfRSA National Squad Tour to the United Kingdom to gain more experience. When I think I have built enough experience, I want to turn pro and compete on the Sunshine Tour.
“My biggest goal is to make enough money to buy my parents a house. My dad introduced me to golf, so I would love to do something special for him. I would also like to give back to my community in some way; I haven’t figured that part out just yet, but I want to find a way to give more kids the opportunity to get out of the township and to give them a chance to reach their potential.”
For someone who is still a teenager, Valentine presents as a mature young man, well-mannered and focused; a player whose development has been sound and wholesome.
“For the SAGDB and for GolfRSA, it’s not only about golf,” Valentine says. “Our coaches aren’t only skilled in golf, but also in human interaction; they teach us many values that you can take with as you continue to grow as a person and as a golfer.”
He may still have a long way to go to fulfil his dreams, but GolfRSA and the SAGDB can beam with pride at successes like Valentine – a prime example of what a solid support system can produce.
Devon Valentine shares his thoughts after his victory at the Individual Competition at the 2023 High Schools Championship.
Credit: GOLFRSA / Ernest Blignault