May 6, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
We spoke a bit about walking into the world, which James White did Saturday morning at Georgia Tech with about 1,599 fellow Yellow Jackets who probably weren’t much different than the golfer who could hardly believe what was happening.
Since I recall graduating from college as well, sort of, I sought common ground. Looking for shared experiences – those three-dimensional or emotional so long as introspection was involved – a link popped up. Having asked about indelible memories, this came up:
There was White forgetting his shoes as he left to play in the NCAAs as a freshman, holding up the team because he locked himself out of the hotel on his way to Inverness.
Lo, the first professional golf tournament I ever covered – while still in college, by the way – was at Inverness. I was in the 18th fairway about 100 yards behind Bob Tway when his sand shot on the 72nd hole blew a third hole in Greg Norman’s schooner.
Norman led all four majors after three rounds that year, and won but one. He led the PGA that day by four strokes at the turn yet flopped in Toledo.
Inverness is not all that James White and I shared in our college experiences.
There’s no doubt we both laquered up in school. The varnish hardened. White’s path was, it is certain, less reprobated than mine. Yet we both emerged better and bigger.
He’s reminisced about all of that difficult-to-define stuff in recent days, and was doing so again when we spoke Saturday as he was back home in Acworth awaiting the arrivals of graduation party guests.
“It was kind of surreal, everybody in caps and gowns, moving on in life, reflecting on all these great people who might get a chance to change the world with awesome inventions and stuff; there are some amazing people at Tech,” White said. “For me, [college] was more about growing up and not running around like a chicken with my head cut off.”
White is a wonderful golfer, and just the second Tech athlete ever to leave school a four-time ACC champion (K.G. White was on four straight ACC championship baseball teams in the 1980s.). He was All-America last year, might yet be this year, and won the Byron Nelson award last month.
He’s not banking on re-inventing the world. The goal is to navigate it. He’s better prepared to deal than when he first set foot on The Flats.
His roommate (Chesson Hadley) saved that day back in Toledo (where Inverness is located) with another key to the room. It’ll be largely up to White to find his keys from here on out.
Tough as Tech is, there is more of a support group in college than in the real world, and that’s especially true for student-athletes.
“I definitely remember making the comment recently about the amount of people I’ve come in contact with, and the ability to get along with them,” White said. “It always felt like a community to me. I always felt like I could be friends with someone in a different major, or from ethnic background different from mine . . .
“It’s kind of been a unique chapter. Tech is like a big family. The whole time here I’ve been like, ‘When am I going to grow up? When am I going to grow up?’ “
White will return to Tech, where the Jackets will learn Monday which NCAA regional they’ll play in week after next. The goal will again be the NCAAs, of course.
The big plans go beyond that, even if he hasn’t set them yet.
My goal coming out of college was to get a job, any job, in the newspaper business. Eventually, I did. Looking back, the growing up process was not yet complete. Maybe it never is, actually. I was better prepared for it, though, than I would have been but for having graduated from college.
You won’t meet a more genuine person than James White. I’m pleased to have met him, and better for it.
I’m amazed sometimes that life has worked out as it has, not that everything is a walk among fragrance. James was of a similar mind, in a way, after Saturday’s festivities.
“The ceremony went pretty much perfectly, which surprised me,” he said. “You’ve got 1,600 people, no rehearsals, and it went off great.”
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