The people who line up on the terrace of the clubhouse at
Congressional, just above the scorer's tent, where the players
sign their cards, can tell which golfers have just made the cut.
Here comes one of them. Look at the smile on his face, the
hearty slaps he takes on the shoulder. The fans have no idea who
he is, but they want his autograph. The first kid to offer up
his pen and hat didn't hear this player's brother's words of
congratulations--"Way to go, Burrhead!"--so he makes a wild stab
at identification. "Is your first name Matt?" he asks.
"No," says the golfer, "it's David."
"Are you David Maggert?" asks an older fan, offering a rumpled
"That's Jeff Maggert," the golfer corrects. "I'm David White."
That was the end of the autograph line, so there was no one to
ask the next logical question: Is that David White the aspiring
financial consultant or David White the blossoming
A few months ago White, 26, thought he had this all figured out.
After three years of kicking around in the bush leagues of pro
golf, he had quit the Hooters tour and headed home for Little
Rock, Ark. Happily back in the embrace of his friends and large,
tight-knit family--all of whom affectionately call him Burrhead
in memory of an unfortunate haircut 20 years ago--he had
petitioned the USGA to reinstate his amateur status, even though
it meant he couldn't take prize money in any pro event or enter
any amateur competition until the reinstatement process was
completed, in 2000. He had found a job as a financial consultant
trainee at Merrill Lynch and was studying for the Series 7 exam,
the test aspiring stockbrokers must pass before they're allowed
to sell securities. He was, in fact, originally scheduled to
take the test on June 16.
Then, in May, White decided to take a shot at the Open. He had
tried and failed on six previous occasions, and his heart wasn't
entirely in it this time. The night before he was to make the
eight-hour drive to Springfield, Ill., for the regional
qualifier, White changed his mind and decided to stay home. But
in the morning he changed his mind again, got in the car and
drove 90 miles before turning around. The next day, the last day
of practice rounds, he got up at 4 a.m., drove to Springfield,
got in a practice round and then fell into bed, exhausted. Still
tired the following morning, he shot a 69 and won a playoff for
the fourth and final slot in the sectional.
In the next round of qualifying, in Columbus, Ohio, he was
paired with Tour veteran Mark Wiebe and shot 71-68 to tie for
third, earning a place in the field at Congressional. But White
had to make a decision: Should he play the Open as an amateur or
should he ask the USGA to disregard his earlier request, enter
the Open as a pro and maybe make some cash? "It wasn't that big
of a dilemma for me," says White. "I was only throwing away four
months' credit toward regaining my amateur status. I couldn't
help thinking, What if I have the week of my life?"
So on June 9, the day he officially entered the Open, White did
so as a pro. He then had the week of his life. White put up with
a few slights, as the anonymous members of an Open field usually
do. For instance, the stats that appeared with his bio in the
USGA press guide belonged to a different David White, and after
he finished the first round on the leader board with an even-par
70, a number of newspapers wiped him off it by misreporting his
score the next day as a mathematically impossible 34-36-72. But
he got in two star-spangled practice rounds, one with Tom
Watson, whose advice to White on dealing with Congressional's
capriciously breaking greens was "Heck with it"; and one with
Tom Lehman, who complimented White on his club head speed.
Growing up in Little Rock, White had dreamed of such high-level
hobnobbing, and after two All-America seasons at Arkansas (1993
and '94), he set out on his professional odyssey. Backed by his
grandfather's Sparkman, Ark., lumber company, White hit the
mini-tours. Occasionally he played well, but never well enough
for long enough. The travel was brutal, the nights were lonely
and the money, at times, laughable. "I once got a check for
$28," says White, chuckling. "What was I going to do with that?"
He cashed it, of course.
Although White made many friends and came to find a certain
charm in the Motel 6 chain, he missed his family. "Most people
have a love-hate relationship with golf," says White. "I hated
what it took me away from. I could've gotten to the point where
I was making big money, but I didn't want to be 35 and single
and find it wasn't going to happen. I'd have given up so much
for so little."
When he failed Q school for the third time last November, White
was looking at another year on the Hooters circuit, so he quit
before the tour began in March. "I was relieved," he says. "I
felt like I had definitely made the right decision."
His friends and family weren't so sure. While they wanted "what
was best for David," says his mother, Joy, they wondered if he
was giving up too soon. "Even my boss at Merrill Lynch told me I
was crazy to give it up," says White.
"I had mixed emotions," says David's father, John, who caddied
for his son last week at Congressional. "I always thought he was
gifted. I'd give a million dollars to be a professional
sportsman. I guess it was a dream of mine, too."
"We all think he can play with the best of them," says White's
older brother, John Ray, a lawyer in Little Rock. "His mind has
kept him from scoring with the best of them."
Until last week. At challenging Congressional, among the
glitterati of golf, White found his groove. With his mom, two of
three siblings and various in-laws, relatives and friends in his
gallery, White played like the pro his family and friends always
knew he could be. Last Thursday he sprayed drives all over the
course but recovered well. "I'm not really surprised to see
myself on the leader board," White said after the round. "This
kind of course matches my game."
With heightened expectations, White showed plenty of composure
in the second round, especially during a potential disaster in
the middle of the back nine. After bogeying the 13th hole to go
one over par for the tournament, White hit an approach into the
rough at the par-4 14th and flew his next shot over the
grandstands and nearly onto the 15th tee. His fourth shot landed
in more rough and his fifth only made it to the edge of the
green, about 20 feet from the hole. As the gallery looked on
with dread, White pulled out his putter, then decided to use a
wedge. When his chip rolled into the hole, White pumped his
fist, and his family hollered, "All right, Burrhead!" White
followed the triumphant double bogey with two birdies and
finished at two over. "That's a new David White you're seeing,"
said his sister, Carrie. "A year ago he would have blown up and
triple-bogeyed or walked away with a 10 on that hole. But he
hung in there today. I'm so proud of him."
So was First Arkansan Bill Clinton, who beckoned White to his
box next to the 16th green on Sunday after White had missed a
50-foot putt for birdie. Sprinting around a bunker, White was
nearly thrown to the ground by Secret Service agents before he
was allowed to shake hands with the President.
That was the only time all week that White felt overwhelmed. "I
learned that on my good days, I'm as good as most of the guys
out here," he says. "There's not anyone who intimidates me."
White had rounds of 73-77 on the weekend and finished 51st, 16
strokes behind winner Ernie Els. Playing four rounds in the
Open, he says, gave him a huge confidence boost "as a person,
not as a golfer," but he doesn't see it changing his current
"What can possibly happen from this?" asks White, who earned
$7,786. "No doors have been closed, although no doors have been
opened either." Which means it's back to suits and briefcases
this week. But after last week's test, the Series 7 ought to be
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND [David White reading Wall Street Journal]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM GUND White's family and friends wondered if he had given up too soon on his dream to play the Tour. [David White and others]