June 4, 2012
By Matt Winklejohn
It’s not purgatory where James White lingers because there are no religious connotations, but the recently graduated Georgia Tech golfer’s soul is in limbo.
He’s a bit stuck between remaining an amateur and turning pro. He has a couple residences – neither of which he can really call home. And now that school is over for good, he has this gnawing feeling that since nearly all he’s done is practice, practice, practice that he might play so much that it could become counter-productive.
Today, he’ll try to put all the doubts in the rear view.
White and another four dozen or more will tee it up to whack and tap it around over 36 holes at the River Club in Suwanee with the goal of landing in the U.S. Open. This sectional qualifier is the last chance for all of them – at least this year.
You might think that even if White doesn’t make the cut, which figures to favor just the top few golfers, he’s ready to go try and make a few bucks as a pro.
No so fast.
White’s still an amateur, and he’s going to stay that way for a while. Here’s why: he made the U.S. Palmer Cup squad. That’s a big deal, pitting U.S. Collegians (or recent graduates) against European peers.
When you’ve never been to Europe, and you have an opportunity to play in an eight-man Ryder Cup-style competition like this one June 28-30 at the Royal County Down Golf Club in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, well, you do it.
“That’s at the end of June. That’s half the summer, and that gets me into the British Amateur, and since I’ve never been in that or been to Europe I’m going to play that,” White said. “If I win the British Amateur, that get’s me into next year’s Masters and the Georgia Cup at the Golf Club of Georgia.
“I figured I might as well stay amateur for another month after that and try to qualify for the U.S. Amateur.”
That’ll be Aug. 13-19 at the Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills, N.J.
There are different ways to qualify; White would love to get in by world amateur ranking. Presently, he’s No. 75. Should he work his way up to the top 50, he’ll be in.
White’s grown accustomed to counting upon nothing.
Were he one to work that way, he’d have been devastated when the Yellow Jackets bowed out of the NCAA regional last month. Actually, he was wiped out for a few days. Not a single Jacket golfer played well on the final day at Oklahoma University.
White birdied the final hole of his college career, but all that did was help him avoid an 80. It was not the way anybody would ever want to go out – individually or as a team.
“None of us played that well and we all felt the pressure picking up to play better, and we just got in a mess and couldn’t get out,” White said. “I’m not ready to go practice golf after something like that. I about had enough. I didn’t come home and start practicing right away. I took a few days off, relaxed, and tried to get excited for the game again.”
White said he’s accomplished that, but with a sort of collateral damage.
Although he’s spent time at his parents’ home in Acworth, Tech’s only senior from this past season said he’s been living chiefly with former teammate Seth Reeves at Sugarloaf out in Gwinnett County because it puts him closer to courses where he likes to practice.
Yet that access has been a double-edged sword. This became obvious at the asking of a simple question: will you find any time in your busy summer schedule to do anything else, like, maybe, go water-skiing?
“That would be fun, but not really,” White said. “I was, honestly, talking to Seth . . . we were talking last night about the need to find other things to do because right now all we have to do is wake up and play golf. If you do anything that much, it’s hard to stay focused. It’ll just wear you down.
“Even [Sunday], the tendency was to want to go out and practice, practice . . . but I’ve got the qualifier [Monday].”
White likes to go fishing. He said he wants to go fishing. He said he’s trying to go fishing. He and Reeves have also talked about going rock climbing, even if they have to go to an indoor facility. Something. Anything. But golf.
He might sound like a prisoner of the game he loves. He’s not. White is stuck between college and what comes next, sorting out options and trying to re-calibrate bio-rhythms. He’s not doing this alone. He’s polled folks.
“I’ve talked to a few guys, like Kordell Stewart at the Golf Club, and Jerome Bettis; they played in the NFL,” White said. “We were talking about letting the game come to you because you can chase it too hard to where you don’t perform to your best level. It’s about finding my game.”
Make that finding his level.
Many of us go through a post-college adjustment period, but I bet our dynamics rarely match what White is experiencing. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.