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Player's Perspective: Devin Hernandez

March 27, 2024

Golf has been a part of my family for generations. My great grandfather, from Detroit, competed in USGA Championships. He competed in the 1954 United Stated Amateur, losing to Arnold Palmer. My grandfather, also growing up in the Detroit area, went on to follow his footsteps and ended up playing collegiate golf at Eastern Michigan University, before moving the entire family down to St. Petersburg, Florida.

My father married into this “golf family” and being from Puerto Rico, he had not played very much golf, if at all. He was a baseball player, and had a knack for cars, as his father was a professional race car driver. But when my father met my mother, he was forced to pick up the game, and learn quickly. We lived in a golf community, a few houses down from my grandparents, and I can recall my father working on his game, getting better each year. He quickly got the hang of the game and went on to becoming a scratch (or better golfer). He went on to compete in amateur tournaments and won our club championship eight years in a row, he will tell you about it, to this day.

Seeing all of this was very motivating on various levels. Although, like every 8–10-year-old kid, I wanted to be an NFL quarterback, or a baseball player. My younger brother, Derek, and I were always involved in all of these sports. We played from season to season: Basketball, Baseball, Soccer, Football, etc. It was only during the summer months where we would go to golf camp or play golf on a family vacation. We of course had to incorporate a family competition where we would play a three-person team scramble with an ongoing wager, and same teams each year. This would be my mom, my grandfather and I against my dad, my brother, and my grandmother. These are some of the most fantastic memories. At the time, I had no idea the lasting impact this would have on my life, let alone how I would fall in love with the game of golf.

Going into high school I quickly realized that I was not the tallest, not the fastest (probably one of the slowest) and was unlikely that I would compete at any of these sports at a high level or even play in college. I knew one thing, I liked to compete. To me, there was nothing better than getting ready to take the baseball field or breaking the huddle for the first play of a football game, and I was not ready to give that up. I started thinking about this, and being that we lived on a golf course, and could practice on my own time. I didn’t even realize that high schools had golf teams. In my eighth grade summer going into high school, I spent every day at the golf course. I had fallen in love with the game and realized it was going to be something I could never “master”, but I enjoyed that. I recall having the conversation with my parents about how and if I could start registering for golf tournaments. In 2006, we signed up for my very first FSGA event, which was played at Fox Hollow Golf club. I signed for 93 in the first round, and 88 in the second round. At the time, I was happy to break 90. That year my parents ended up taking me to ten Florida Junior Tour events around the state. I quickly found myself getting a few top-10 finishes. My scoring average dropped down into the 70’s. This was a quick improvement. The announcement on the first tee, the rush of nerves, and excitement, was something to this day I love about this game.

I ended up making my high school golf team my freshman year, but did not qualify for the starting lineup. I continued to practice and work on my game. By the time I was a junior I was in the lineup, our team had qualified for the State Championship at Southern Dunes, which was the first time our school had accomplished this. I competed against some great players and quickly realized how much talent there is within the state of Florida. Our team ended up finishing fifth, from what I recall. We went on to play in the state finals again my senior year. At the time, something I didn’t realize was the friendships, bonds, and relationships I had made with my teammates. To this day, these are some of my best friends, and luckily, given we are all local, we still get to play golf with one another. Funny enough, I teamed up with my high school teammate, John Valenty, to win an FSGA Championship together in 2022, the Two Man Shootout at Lakewood National.

 Going into my senior year of high school, being late, relatively speaking, to playing the game, I did not have much of a resume. I had a few highlights, but nothing compared to the balance of the high-level juniors in the state of Florida. I visited several Division Two schools, and was very happy and excited about these opportunities as I was just looking for a place to play. My family had a relationship with local standout golfer, Mike Finster. We approached Mike and mentioned that I was doing everything I could to compete at the college level. We asked for advice and how I should go about contacting some of college coaches. Mike asked if we could set up a golf game so he and I could play together and get to know one another. Little did I know this was going to be a lifelong friend and mentor to me at the time. From what I recall, we played the Bayou Club and I shot 68 and Mike shot 69 (fast forward to 2021- Mike and I team up to win the FSGA Two Man Shoot Out). The very next week my mom and dad took me to PGA National to compete in a junior tournament. At the event was University of South Florida Men’s golf coach, Jim Fee. Mike Finster had known Jim from their playing days as kids and put in a favorable recommendation for me. I played well at PGA National, I recall a top 10 finish. On my birthday, January 30, coincidentally, of 2009 (senior year of high school), I received a phone call from coach Jim Fee who made me a formal offer to be a part of his golf team at USF. I was thrilled for this opportunity. My parents had put so much time into my golf the last four years, I could not wait to tell them about the phone call I had just received.

I had an outstanding college experience and continued to try to become a better golfer every single day. I learned a lot about the game during this time, along with getting to compete against some of the best players in the country. During the summer of sophomore year, USF had hired a new golf coach by the name of Chris Malloy. He taught me a lot about the game, along with how to prepare for life outside of golf. Working with Coach Malloy was a great experience as he put us in situations and tournaments against the best players. I got to play against Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Daniel Berger and many others. These players were incredible. I ended my college career on a high note, where I qualified to be our fifth man in the lineup going into our conference championship. With Chase Koepka, Trey Valentine, and Richard James leading the charge, we ended up winning the Big East conference championship. These players went on to do great things in their own right, but for me, this was a memory I will have for the rest of my life.

After college, I was not ready to give up the game so quickly. I was lucky enough to play one more summer of amateur golf. I had worked as a cart attendant throughout this summer, along with a side job at Sports Authority. I went on to do Qualifying School for PGA Tour Latin America and Canadian Tour. Falling short in both events, along with the tiresome lifestyle, I could see the writing on the wall that this was not going to be for me.

In the summer of 2014, I was traveling home from a golf tournament, where I made stop in Highlands North Carolina to visit my grandparents, and of course enjoy some beautiful golf. While at the golf course, I came across a gentleman by the name of Alex Shouppe. We began small talk at the driving range, which led to more small talk at the bar. Come to find out he was a highly successful insurance salesman at rapid growing Brown & Brown, Inc. He happened to be from St. Petersburg as well and had asked for me to give him a call when I got back home and settled. At the time, I was just winding down with my competitive golf, so I thought, and took him up on a meeting. He ended up hiring me on July 7th 2014, which is where I have been employed, going on ten years.

During the early goings of my working career, I did not play much golf. The insurance business kept me busy, as there was a lot to learn. I found a nice parallel between golf and my new job of placing, managing, and servicing insurance policies for various business owners in the Tampa Bay area. This job was very similar to working on my golf game. The time, repetitions, goals, dedication, I knew I had made the right decision. After about two years of establishing myself within the insurance industry, I found was ready to get back to competing in high level amateur golf tournaments. As a young kid, I just had assumed my golf career was going to be over, little did I know that this was just the beginning.

I continued to work on my game, while at the same time blossoming my insurance career. I found myself qualifying for the United States Four-Ball in 2016 which was played at Winged Foot Golf Club. This was great motivation as this was my first time ever qualifying for a USGA Championship. Moving forward into 2018, longtime friend, Spencer Baldwin and I, won the FSGA Mid-Amateur Four-Ball North. Later that summer I had qualified for the United States Amateur, which was played at Pebble Beach, and ultimately won by Viktor Hovland. This was a thrill for me at the time as I was accompanied by my then girlfriend and now wife, Katelyn Hernandez, my parents, and my grandparents. This was Katelyn’s first time watching me play in a golf tournament. I recall explaining to her that this is as good as it ever is going to be, so take this all in and let’s enjoy this. The USGA had given all the players “preferred rates” to stay at the lodge, where our room opened to the first tee box at Pebble Beach. The experience will never be forgotten. I fell short of making the match play, but having my parents, grandparents, and my wife there by my side was truly special.

Throughout my journey in life and in the game of golf, I have met and made lifelong friends and relationships. As you can see, this game has shaped my life and who I am today. Katelyn and I welcomed our first child to the world on March 30th, 2023, Vivien Hernandez. She has seen me play a couple of times, and who knows, maybe she too, will continue our family bloodline of appreciation for this beautiful game.

- Written by, Devin Hernandez