Eye on the Ball: A teacher and a pro

BOB DeSTEFANO PHOTO Valerie LaPapa giving a golf lesson to Mia Wilutis.

Valerie LaPapa giving a golf lesson to Mia Wilutis.

For many of you who play golf on Shelter Island, you know Valerie LaPapa.

Valerie is the person you meet when you golf at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club (GBCC) who immediately makes you feel better just because you’ve met her.

Valerie has been the assistant golf professional at GBCC under head pro Leigh Notley for three years. Proficient in all aspects of her profession, she takes her greatest satisfaction from teaching the game, especially to children.

People pick up golf for many reasons. Take 11-year-old Valerie Cofran. She lived on a golf course in Wellington, Florida, and thought the boy picking up the range balls was cute, which led her to hitting balls on the driving range. Many of those shots were earmarked for the cute boy in the cart.

Hitting those balls had an effect she didn’t anticipate. Valerie discovered she had a talent and soon became a player, which led her to play tournament golf in the Palm Beach County Junior Golf Association. Valerie also qualified for the United States Junior Girls Championship.

It wasn’t long before she was good enough to get a scholarship to the University of Florida playing three years on the Gators golf team.

Other things happened at the University — like meeting Dave Ragan. They married after college and immediately moved to the prestigious River Oaks Club in Houston.

For four years, Valerie worked teaching junior golf for the famous golf professional, Dick Harmon. Dick was the son of the long-time Winged Foot pro Claude Harmon and brother to a man who might be considered the best teacher in golf, Butch Harmon.

I was most impressed with Valerie’s father-in-law, Dave Ragan. Dave played against such great names as Hogan, Palmer and Nicklaus in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I also remember when he played for the United States in the Ryder Cup.

Valerie was also very fortunate to get help from her father-in-law along with Dick Harmon. The marriage lasted seven years. The best thing the marriage produced, she said, was a son, Bennett, one of the finest young gentlemen working up at the club.

No grass grows under the feet of Valerie, since her next move was to the beautiful Breakers Golf Club in Palm Beach. Not only was she at a great club again, she was with another top teacher for 13 years, Todd Anderson.

If she doesn’t know how to teach golf, especially to kids, then I don’t know who does. I’m pleased that the club hired this woman of talent who continues running the best junior golf program in the state.

Ever since she hit balls at that cute boy in the golf cart, she connects with people in golf. At the Breaker’s Hotel, she met Vince LaPapa, where he was a food and beverage manager. They married, had a daughter, Juliana, and are happily together after 12 years.

Valerie comes to Shelter Island to stay from Memorial Day to Labor Day. When she returns to Florida, she’s a teacher at the magnificent Emerald Dunes Club in West Palm Beach, owned by Ken Tropin of Dering Harbor.

Having taught golf for 60 years, I enjoyed talking golf with Valerie. I can safely say that no one should fear wasting their money when they invest in a golf lesson from her. We are lucky to have her.