Note: The following appears in the Charlotte gameday football program.
During her first visit to Clemson as a freshman in high school, senior golfer Ana Paula Valdes fell in love with the idea of being a Tiger.
“I was super excited. I said, ‘Oh, this is amazing! I want to go here!’ Then I said, ‘Ana, chill. This is the first school you’ve ever visited.’”
But after making her rounds to other colleges, Valdes found herself comparing every experience to Clemson, and nowhere else quite stacked up. She knew where she wanted to spend her college career.
Valdes spent the majority of her childhood in Morelia, Mexico before leaving her family at age 14 to join Hank Haney’s International Junior Golf Academy (IJGA) in Hilton Head, S.C. Representatives of IJGA sought Valdes after seeing her impressive tournament performance as a member of a Mexican national team.
She spent four years improving her game at IJGA and then moved to Florida for her senior year of high school to attend Bishops Gate Golf Academy, where she became even more focused on the sport of golf.
Valdes had committed to play golf for the Tigers more than two years before she would step foot on campus as a freshman. After a few coaching changes at Clemson the summer before her arrival, Valdes faced a program that was different than the one into which she was recruited. With this unforeseen challenge, Valdes’ confidence in Clemson golf never wavered.
“I loved Clemson too much to even think about transferring.”
Valdes has since been a part of the positive growth of the team’s family culture and helped the program qualify for its first NCAA Championship appearance in program history.
“Qualifying was a huge moment for the program, for our coach, for us as a team and for me as an individual.”
This season, Valdes has a new challenge ahead of her. She received news in May that surgery was needed to repair injuries to her left wrist and elbow in order to treat recurring pain and numbness that had begun to affect her game. Immediately following the conclusion of the spring season, Valdes underwent the operations.
With the length of her recovery process, Valdes was unable to play golf for the duration of the summer, which initially left her discouraged for the start of her senior season. Now, she is grateful to have endured the treatment. After returning to the course for a few weeks, she is feeling better than ever.
“I’m finally playing pain-free golf and I’m so excited to start building up to my fullest potential.”
With remarkable progress in her recovery and with the support of her coaches and teammates, Valdes is full of optimism.
As the lone senior on the 2019-20 team, Valdes is overflowing with gratitude for her time at Clemson and with anticipation for what is to come. She shared her foundational motto, “You are a person before a player,” a sentiment that guides her as she takes on a larger leadership role this season.
Valdes has always planned on a professional career in golf following graduation, and she plans to enter qualifying school next fall in pursuit of her ultimate goal of joining the LPGA Tour.
As she embarks on her final season in Tigertown, Valdes exudes excitement, appreciation and humility. She knows the path ahead will not be easy, but she is ready and poised for success.