The Long Game: Was Frank Mitchell a Real Golf Coach?

Directed by Julio Quintana, ‘The Long Game’ tells the story of a Mexican-American golf team that is formed to fit in but archives far more. Set against the backdrop of 1950s Texas, the narrative follows the San Felipe Mustangs as they prepare for the state tournament while struggling to bridge the economic and racial divide in golf. A pivotal team member in this effort is Frank Mitchell, a white golfing coach who becomes a bridge across that divide. Mitchell is a World War II veteran who served along with his good friend, JB Peña. Given Mitchell’s central role in the film, inquisitive minds may seek to dig deeper into his real-world existence.

Frank Mitchell is Partly Based on Hiram Valdes

Despite ‘The Long Game’ being based on a true story, the character of Frank Mitchell is invented by the movie’s writers. This was likely done to create an interesting contrast between the two coaches, exploring racial differences while simultaneously bridging them. The character of Frank Mitchell replaces the real-life second coach and supporter of San Felipe Mustangs, Hiram Valdes.

Hiram Valdes (Rightmost) Image Credit: Mustang Miracle/Google Books

Hiram Valdes was a civil servant, primarily working as an aircraft mechanic at the Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas. He had an unquenchable thirst for playing golf and accompanied his good friend JB Peña as he applied for membership of the San Felipe Country Club in 1955. His application was rejected. As the two made peace with their exclusion from the whites-only club, they came across a group of Mexican-American caddies practicing golf.

The caddies’ enthusiasm for the sport was apparent, given the immense work they had put into creating their own golf course in the scrublands. Valdes convinced Peña to start a school golf team with them, leading to the creation of the San Felipe Mustangs. Even after the group’s formation, Valdes worked actively with the players, honing their skills and motivating them. He went beyond the call of duty and even funded many of their trips and expenses relating to golf.

Hiram Valdes Passed Away in 2007

Hiram Valdes retired after 32 years of working at the Laughlin Air Force Base. He continued to play golf after the Mustangs’ tournament win in 1957. After the San Felipe Country Club eventually desegregated, he became a member and continued golfing at the club with Peña. This is where Humberto Garcia, the author of ‘Mustang Miracle,’ first met and played golf with Peña and Valdes in 1979, remaining completely unaware of their historic achievement. Garcia would discover the accomplishments of the two gentlemen much later, in 2008.

“I was not alone in learning for the first time about the 1957 golf team,” said Garcia in an interview. “And to make matters worse, when I went back to Del Rio to practice law, I was playing golf regularly. There was a standing Thursday game with 8 to 16 guys, and two of the guys that would regularly participate were JB Peña and Hiram Valdes… I played with those guys weekly! And not once did they mention (the ‘57 championship).”

Hiram Valdes died in 2007 at the age of 93. Unfortunately, he was not able to witness the accolades bestowed upon his championship-winning team. After his death, the team members dedicated a bench in his honor, which rests on the ground of the San Felipe Country Club.

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