Golf: No longer a ‘white man’s game’

A K-State Men's Golf player practices putting at Colbert Hills Golf Course on March 9, 2017. (File Photo by John Benfer | The Collegian)

The road to getting to where one wants is likely to have obstacles.

Sergio Garcia, 2017 Masters Tournament champion in golf, has experienced these obstacles first hand, as he had finished in the top ten or better in golf’s four major tournaments throughout his career 22 times — without a win — until early April.

Coming from Spain, and representing a minority group in what is called a “white man’s game,” Garcia’s race seemed to make his 2017 Master’s win that much more enjoyable, as it brought his heritage and determination throughout his 18-year career to the forefront, as there have only been three non-caucasian Masters champions other than Garcia since 2000.

Likewise, Levi Valadez, freshman in business and a member of the Kansas State golf team, fell short the past couple years on his high school golf team. Valadez came through with a win in his last year of high school, just as Garcia had earlier this month when winning the Masters.

“It was a weight off my shoulders,” Valadez said while reflecting on a tournament win in the American Junior Golf Association’s annual tournament in his senior year of high school.

Growing up in San Antonio, Texas, Valadez got into golf at a young age. Starting at the age of four, Valadez’s father guided him to try an individual sport such as golf.

Early on Valadez found he was quite good at the sport.

Along with his father, Valadez was also given guidance by a local youth development organization called The First Tee. The First Tee strives to bring the game of golf to underprivileged kids in lower-income communities, while also teaching them life values.

“I used to brag a lot about how good I was,” Valadez said. “They really taught me a lot of stuff outside of golf.”

As time went on, however, Valadez’s success slightly declined.

“I didn’t really have a good work ethic,” Valadez said, going on to explain that his father was an important part in him becoming a collegiate golfer.

“If it wasn’t for him I would have just got left in the dust,” Valadez said.

Valadez’s father helped him to focus on practicing the game rather than just playing it, helping his son compete with his peers.

Having Mexican heritage, Valadez represented a minority among his peers growing up. When asked if this racial difference affected him, Valadez explained that it was not a big deal.

However, growing up in The First Tee, Valadez said he felt he was different in his upbringing from some of his competitors.

“Its funny, just because all these kids grew up in country clubs,” Valadez said. “Me and this other kid grew up playing The First Tee; we just loved golf more than them.”

Valadez said after making the high school golf team, he was blown away by the country club courses he got to play on.

“I had to be dragged off the golf course for homework,” Valadez said.

Valadez shook his head when asked if he had ever gotten burned out. “Sometimes I would take a week off and then just get right back out on the course again,” he said.

Valadez said his teammates and competitors around him were getting recruited to colleges early on, but he didn’t seem to be getting any attention.

However, during Valadez’s junior year his play attracted the attention of K-State’s head golf coach Grant Robbins.

Teammate Benjamin Fernandez, sophomore in accounting and finance, said, “He had a very good junior career. Our coach saw a kid that was ready to jump right into it.”

Jacob Eklund, freshman in business and teammate of Valadez’s, said that Valadez does not give up.

“Coach Robbins saw work ethic,” Eklund said. “He’s not the longest, or the strongest, he takes a different approach. He’s goofy, honestly.”

Fernandez said the two players — Valadez and Garcia — share similarities.

“Sergio was very focused and intense, and Levi kind of gets the same way when he is playing,” Fernandez said.

Eklund said at the beginning of the season Valadez suffered a knee injury, which put him in a slump after returning.

“He didn’t let it discourage him,” Eklund said. “He’s not a kid that gives up.”

Neither was Garcia, as a Masters win had finally been added to the veteran’s resume.

Of the eleven current K-State golfers, Valadez is the only player representing the Hispanic minority.

Valadez said race and stereotypes do not affect the sport in his eyes anymore.

“The golf course doesn’t care who you are,” Valadez said.