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Where are they now? Lynn Valentine has settled into golf teaching role in Florida

Lynn Valentine's condominium is on the top floor overlooking the 13th tee and the 16th fairway at Bear Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. It's fitting, as for the past 22 years Valentine has called Bear Lakes home.

A 1994 graduate of St. Bernard School, a 1998 graduate of the University of Hartford and a member of the golf teams at both, Valentine is the LPGA teaching professional at Bear Lakes, which actually features two world-class Jack Nicklaus Signature Courses and a 22,000-square-foot clubhouse.

"It's a beautiful view," Valentine, an East Lyme native, said of the condo. "I joke with the guys if I'm late for work. 'The traffic was bad.' It's less than a mile."

Valentine is a former Connecticut Women's Open champion, taking the title in 2008, and she finished second in 2012 while earning low professional honors. She spent 10 years on the Futures Tour, the developmental tour for the LPGA, ping-ponging to cities across the United States.

She played in the U.S. Women's Open twice, qualifying in 2001 at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in North Carolina and in 2008 at Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota.

For a time, she worked at Bear Lakes in the winter and at Warwick (R.I.) Country Club in the summer. But then Valentine's golf trip to Mississippi during the spring of her freshman year at Hartford, in which she discovered playing golf in radiant sun, was always stuck in her mind — "I can't do cold anymore. No more snow golf," she said.

She is in her fourth year working year-round at Bear Lakes, where she first started in the bag room as a newly minted college graduate.

"I work the shop, but teaching is my passion. Teaching is my No. 1 priority which I love to do, to help somebody improve their game," the 44-year-old Valentine said in a recent telephone interview.

"I did that (the Futures Tour) for 10 years part time. I went from 2000 and went to 2010. I thought, 'It's time to find a real job.' That's how I got into the teaching side of the business. I got my Class A (teaching professional certification) with the LPGA. ... I learned how to see what people were doing wrong, how to correct it, how every individual is different and how they're learning.

"People come to (Bear Lakes) to play golf. It's more of a golfing club. You can always find a game. If I wanted to play this morning I could have. ... It's like having another family."

••••

Valentine was 7 when she began playing golf, walking with her brothers from their house less than a mile to Cedar Ridge Golf Course in East Lyme. The family joined then-New London Country Club when Lynn was 12 or 13, she said, and she started working in the bag room there when she was 14.

Her dad, nicknamed Val, was a former football player at Norwich University and preached discipline, which served Lynn well when it came to golf.

"In our family that was No. 1, discipline," said Valentine, who has four older siblings. "It didn't matter if you were a football player, a cheerleader, a dancer, a singer, if you were committed to something, you didn't miss it. If you chose to do it, you're sticking with it.

"Absolutely, that hasn't changed (as far as being disciplined in her golf game). I don't think it ever will. That side came from my dad; he's stubborn as can be. And I got my mom's sarcastic humor. The combination is pretty good."

Valentine said there were no cons whatsoever to having her four older siblings precede her at St. Bernard. There was a Valentine at the Uncasville school every year from 1980 when her eldest brother Mark arrived until 1994 when she graduated.

"Are you kidding me? Four older siblings to carve it out for me? It was perfect," she said with a laugh. "Mike Nystrom (girls' basketball coach) was getting irritated with me because I would take his parking spot. ... I played soccer as a freshman and sophomore and basketball all four years.

"We just had so many friends in the community."

Lynn also had a close relationship with her mom, Maureen. Prior to Maureen's death in 2017, she would fly to Florida and make the drive back to East Lyme as Lynn headed home for the summer months. Those trips involved an inordinate amount of shopping, Lynn said.

"That was an amazing time," she said. "Twice a year we did the outlets going up 95. I can tell you every outlet from St. Augustine going up north to Connecticut. It's not that she had a favorite store, it's that she could find the best bargain. I tell you what, that woman could find the best bargain. She loved life, that's for sure.

"Just, in life you learn being the youngest from a large family, we all rely on each other. We have that bond."

••••

It was through a connection at New London Country Club, where Valentine won the women's club championship from 1995-98, that she went on to become assistant pro at Worcester (Mass.) Country Club. And it was a connection in Worcester who made a phone call on her behalf to then-Bear Lakes head professional Kevin Murphy.

And so Valentine, looking for something golf-related to do in the dead of winter in New England, drove south. She found herself back in the bag room.

"It was like having four more older brothers on every shift," she said with a laugh. "... I packed up my belongings in my car and I came down. Twenty-two years later, I'm still here. I didn't have an apartment. 'Where can I live?' That's how I learned."

Bear Lakes is renowned for having one of the lowest handicaps among its membership in Palm Beach County.

It was also the home course of late Boston Celtics Hall of Famer John Havlicek, one of Bear Lakes' founding members. Valentine was quoted in a Palm Beach Post story about Havlicek upon his death last year. Havlicek would bring fellow Celtics legend Bob Cousy to play. He also enjoyed fishing.

"If play was slow, he would cast into one of the lakes, try to catch a bass," Valentine said.

Valentine explains that just because she left the tour life, she hasn't stopped competing. She plays annually for the LPGA Teaching and Club Professional National Championship, from which the top eight finishers earn an exemption into the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, one of the tour's majors.

"Just a very talented athlete," said former University of Hartford women's golf coach and Norwich resident Sue Dutilly, attesting to the competitive nature of Valentine, the Hawks' former No. 1 golfer. "She's a very, very focused, intense player and when she puts her mind to something she does it. I feel that has gotten her a long way."

Valentine took the time to talk on the phone recently while going for a walk at scenic Juno Beach in Florida, finding herself caught in a sudden downpour and ducking for cover from tree to tree.

The gist of a wide-ranging conversation: she's thrilled where golf and life have taken her — other than still aspiring to open her own school dedicated to golf's short game and being compelled to watch Korean baseball in place of her beloved Boston Red Sox.

"Absolutely," she said. "Being down here, I'm on a walk at the beach (right now) looking at the ocean for four miles. ... I don't know what time I work tomorrow. I always say 'I don't know what day it is' and (COVID-19) just made it worse. I take it day by day. I need to go look at the book and figure out when I work."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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