Todd White’s sterling reputation within the amateur golf community doesn’t require additional accomplishments in order to be secure.
The Spartanburg, South Carolina, resident has done it all. He played on a U.S. Walker Cup team at 45 years old, helping the Americans to victory in 2013. He won the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball with partner Nathan Smith in 2015 at the Olympic Club, dicing through teams with players less than half his age. In all eight U.S. Mid-Amateurs he has participated in, White has reached the match-play portion of the proceedings each time, a stat worthy of a double take.
He started last week with 28 USGA championship appearances, including the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, under his belt. So what difference could the 29th start make?
The answer is that it could make a clear statement.
White, who has admittedly played less tournament golf on the national scale in the past few years, reminded everyone that he still has the game to compete at the highest level. He arrived at Omaha Country Club for last week’s U.S. Senior Open going up against a field of mainly hardened professionals, many of them past major champions. None of them can say their day job is at all similar to what White does: He coaches the Spartanburg High School golf team and teaches both a U.S. government class and an Economics of Sport class, the latter being an in-depth look into careers within the sports industry that don’t involve being a competitor.
But White – who at age 53 is eligible for senior professional events like this one but still has to wait another two years for senior amateur play – showed out in Omaha. He shot 1-over 71 in the opening round to see his name well within the top 20 of the leaderboard for a spell, and then followed with 2-over 72 to make the cut with four strokes to spare. White was one of four amateurs to make the cut, finishing runner-up in the low-amateur race to William Mitchell.
It’s an impressive feat in a career full of them. Just to get into the tournament, White had to shoot a 65 to be one of two qualifiers out of 73 players in the Greenville, South Carolina, sectional, overcoming a poor start to be medalist.
“I had been playing fairly well going into the qualifier,” White told Global Golf Post before teeing it up at the U.S. Senior Open. “I started out with a birdie on the first hole and you are thinking, ‘Hey, things are good.’ Then I bogey 3 and 4 and I’m 1-over through four. Experience factors in where you just stay patient. Next you know, you play the next 14 holes in 8-under and you’re on your way to Omaha.”
That round led to a special week in Nebraska. Other than the U.S. Junior Amateur, which White never played in because the qualifiers fell during summer football practice during his time as a standout quarterback at Dorman High School in Roebuck, South Carolina. White had played in every other USGA championship he could. Adding the U.S. Senior Open was always on the bucket list. He first tried to qualify two years ago and didn’t make it. Last year, the tournament was cancelled due to the pandemic. But this year, White not only got into the field but earned some well-deserved TV time with his play.
It’s an enormously impressive accomplishment, one that other amateurs can appreciate. Smith, his four-ball partner and former Walker Cup teammate, put it this way: “Qualifying for a Senior Open, it’s just like qualifying for a U.S. Open ... making the cut, I think it would be up there with anything. It’s incredible.”
“All USGA events are important, no matter the level or the stage, because they are national championships.”
White, however, is a soft-spoken southerner who is more understated and diplomatic when comparing the accomplishment to others in his career. To him, the U.S. Senior Open didn’t feel different than other events he has played.
“All USGA events are important, no matter the level or the stage, because they are national championships,” White said. “To me, if it has USGA in front of it, then you are looking at a major championship.”
And USGA championships always have White’s undivided attention, no matter the stage. He figures to be among the top contenders in future U.S. Senior Amateurs starting in 2023 when he becomes eligible, and he is still very much alive to win a U.S. Mid-Am, the event for those 25 and older. White was a semifinalist in the event back in 2012 and has made a couple of other runs deep into match play despite most of his competition being considerably younger and longer off the tee.
When asked how his experience in amateur golf has evolved since being on the Walker Cup squad in 2013, White points to this year’s U.S. Amateur Four-Ball when he and Smith made it to the round of 16 and had to face Palmer Jackson and Davis Chatfield, two college players from Notre Dame.
“You look at the distance disparity and how much farther they hit it off the tee, the way they are able to attack par-5s in ways we can’t,” White said. “In the last eight, nine years, the number of quality amateurs has increased. The athleticism, the distance off the tee, all of the training, all of the equipment ... the game has expanded and it’s tougher for older guys to compete.”
In his last few years before senior amateur golf, White has picked his spots, competing valiantly in a few Azalea Invitationals, winning the 2020 South Carolina Amateur Match Play Championship and reaching the round of 32 at the 2019 U.S. Mid-Am. But this accomplishment in Omaha is his biggest achievement in quite some time, and it’s one to remember.
“It’s a great experience being able to play in another USGA championship,” White said. “I’m not saying I’m checking it off of the list, but I’ve qualified for another USGA event. That’s really special in its own right.”
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