Valinda Miller Valcich, when told during a recent conversation that she’s known as the best golfer, man or woman, at Montauk Downs, said she was “humbled,” though her golf bona fides, which include a 3-handicap rating, three holes-in-one, and, most recently, a double eagle (or albatross) on the Downs’s par-5 seventh hole, make a strong case in her favor.
The self-described “Mrs. Mickey” grew up in East Hampton Village and was introduced to the game at an early age — as was her sister, Jennifer — by their father, Stuart Miller, a member of the Maidstone Club.
“I never really had lessons,” said Valcich, who graduated from East Hampton High School in 1983, having played golf, “on the boys team,” and tennis, which she went on to play at Mount Vernon College in Washington, D.C.
It was at that time in her life, she said, when she underwent the first of what were to be seven operations to reconstruct her left hip, which had been the source of a lot of pain.
Asked what she found to be the difference between the two sports — she still plays tennis in the summer at Montauk Downs — Valcich said, “In golf it’s you against yourself; it’s not you against somebody else, whose presence obviously has a bearing on your play. In golf you’re competing against yourself, and some days you have it, some days you don’t.”
“Golf’s also very social . . . you’re always walking and talking. I love being outside in the fresh air.”(Though, unlike this writer’s brother-in-law, John Kernell, you would not find her playing at the Downs on New Year’s Day, she said.)
Valcich has played all the courses on the South Fork, and finds that Montauk Downs, which, she said, was at present ranked “among the top 10 public courses in the U.S.,” to be right up there with them, thanks to its greenskeeper, Charlie Reidlinger, who had before he came to Montauk tended Bethpage Black.
The present women’s champion at Montauk Downs and at the South Fork Country Club in Amagansett (not to mention a tournament she also won this summer at Noyac and the East Hampton Golf Club) has two children, Carin, 24, and Tyler, 20, who’s begun working with his father in the carting business.
“My daughter’s the one you should interview,” she said. “She’s a top-10 rider of reining horses at the University of North Texas, in Dallas. It’s western-style dressage, I guess you’d say. She started at Stony Hill Stables in Amagansett with Wick [Hotchkiss]. And she rode five or six years with Rusty [Leaver] at Deep Hollow. She’s won everything on Long Island.”
She, too, had ridden, English style, said Valcich, “a thousand years ago.”
In women’s golf outings, she said, in answer to a question, she played from the ladies tees, “though when I play by myself, I play from the men’s tees.”
“The last two years, now that I’ve adjusted my tempo, have been good,” she continued. “Before, I used to hit it as hard as I could, but the ball carries a long way [her longest drive has been 303 yards] if your swing is soft. I drove the ball 298 yards on the par-4 fourth hole the other day and it was effortless. . . . Golf’s all about alignment. Before my hip was reconstructed I had a lot of problems. About five years ago I got an artificial hip, my right one, and I’m playing better! I didn’t plan it that way, but that’s what happened. Six weeks and one day after I got it I was out on the golf course.”
Asked if anyone had been around when she holed out recently in two strokes on the Downs’s par-5 seventh, Valcich said, “There was nobody around. I threw my club up in the air and said, ‘Oh, my God!’ There were people walking to the eighth hole and there was somebody, maybe your brother-in-law, on the tee box behind me. . . . That was nice. My Christmas present.”
Valcich’s championship cups and crystal vases and the scores of balls she’s collected from courses she’s played all over the world — a collection that almost overflows a large bowl — have pretty much taken over the shelves of a well-appointed anteroom.
Yes, she said in reply to a question, she had played St. Andrews in Scotland. “What did I shoot? A 79. Though there was no wind.”
“And here,” she said, bringing out a small bowl inscribed “Boys Runner-Up 1977,” “is my prize.”
“The Maidstone Club didn’t have girls tournaments then.”
Asked if she remembered who had won, she said, “William Dreher! Though I beat him the next year. My sister saw him at the Palm restaurant when we were there five years ago, and introduced us. He said, ‘She beat me!’ Not ‘Hi, how are you?’ ‘She beat me!’ was all he could say.”