2004: Former pros find joy as amateurs
Todd White was no different than the majority of golfers coming out of college, especially at the Division I level. Professional golf and the possibility of fame and fortune on the PGA Tour was calling.
A native of Spartanburg, S.C., he graduated from Furman University in 1990 and was an All-American in 1989. He won the Northeast Amateur and the South Carolina Amateur in 1990, and the South Carolina Match Play in ’91. Then he decided it was time to take his game to the next level.
“I guess I was like most 23-year-olds, ready and confident to get out there and show what I could do,” said White, now 36. “Little did I know how difficult it would be.”
White bounced around the mini-tour circuit the next seven years, never achieving status on any of the top professional tours. He managed to Monday qualify for a few events on the Nike Tour (now the Nationwide Tour), and his biggest thrill came when he qualified for the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, where he shot 73-79 and missed the cut. But there was never any sustained success.
“Finally it just got to me,” he said. “Living out of a suitcase was not enjoyable. And back then if you didn’t finish in the top 5 in a mini-tour event you weren’t making any money.”
In January 1998, he sent in his application for amateur reinstatement to the U.S. Golf Association and, after a three-year waiting period, he regained his amateur status in February 2001.
“Without reinstatement, where would people like myself be?” White asks. “Golf is a game and meant to be enjoyed, and I’m doing just that right now.”
White still has plenty of competitive juices flowing. In 2003, he played in 15 tournaments, with his best finish an eighth at the Players Amateur.
He originally had taken a job as a high school history teacher in Moore, S.C., but found golf required him to take too much time off during the school year. So last fall he became a sales representative for Fairway Forms and Printing. In late March, he shot four rounds in the 60s and finished second by a shot at the Azalea Invitational in Charleston, S.C. His ultimate goal now is to make a U.S. Walker Cup team.
As a reinstated amateur, White is hardly alone.
In 2003, the USGA granted reinstatement to 605 players. While all don’t return to a high level of competitive golf, many do.
After helping lead Oklahoma to the 1989 NCAA Championship, Tripp Davis headed to the pro ranks, where he played for 11⁄2 years. Then he injured his shoulder, and while on the mend “decided it was time to do something else.”
Davis, now 35, said he didn’t “want to be one of those guys who stayed out there six or seven years and then try to decide what to do,” but he wanted to remain in the golf business. After talking with his wife, Jenny, Davis went back to school, got his masters degree in landscape architecture and became a golf course architect, now with his own firm, Tripp Davis and Associates in Norman, Okla.
He gained reinstatement in 1995.
“I am perfectly happy with my decision,” said Davis. “I only have time to play in maybe six or seven national amateur events, but I love playing amateur golf.”
Former college All-Americans Carlton Forrester and Michael Morrison are more recent examples. Both completed their college careers at the 2000 NCAA Championship – Forrester at Georgia Tech and Morrison at Georgia, where he helped lead the Bulldogs to the 1999 NCAA title.
Morrison turned pro in August 2000 and began hitting the mini-tours and trying to Monday qualify for Nationwide Tour events, which he did several times.
Forrester got a job after graduation and remained an amateur until February 2001. As a pro, he earned his Canadian Tour card and qualified for a couple of Nationwide tournaments.
The two played at the same site in the first stage of the 2001 PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament. Neither made it through, and as they were having lunch together afterward, looked at each other and pretty much decided that was it.
“I felt I played pretty good that week, about 4 under par, and I still didn’t make it to second stage,” said Forrester, 27. “I pretty much knew as soon as I turned in my scorecard that was it. I figured, ‘Why not take advantage of the contacts I made in Atlanta and parlay that into business?’ ”
Added Morrison: “I sat there with Carlton and decided it was not as much fun as I thought it would be. I played a few more mini-tour events that year, but my heart wasn’t in it, especially after spending some 41 weeks on the road that year. I knew I had to try something else.”
Forrester landed a job with the investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston in Atlanta and Morrison went to work with his father at MSA Inc., an independent dealer for Canon copiers in Tennessee.
Forrester applied for his amateur status in October 2001 and, because he was a pro less than a year and had played in fewer than 20 events, was reinstated in October 2002.
Morrison remains in limbo. He applied in January 2002, but because he played more than a year and in more than 35 tournaments he was given the maximum three-year waiting period. He appealed the decision three times to no avail and won’t be reinstated until this December.
There also are reinstated amateurs who didn’t turn pro right out of college.
Jim Hays of Scottsdale, Ariz., for instance, had dreams of playing professionally – only the sport was baseball. He played on three College World Series teams at Oklahoma State, and didn’t start playing golf seriously until age 25 and went to work for ClubCorp in Dallas.
From there, he went into the oil business and at one point was $2.5 million in debt. But his company rebounded, and he sold it in 1991 for a nine-digit figure.
With that nice little nest egg at age 46, Hays decided to turn pro and spend four years working on his game to prepare for a try at the Senior PGA Tour (now Champions Tour). He entered the tour’s 1995 qualifying tournament but failed.
In 1999, Hays went to Europe and gained his card on the European Senior Tour. But that summer, his father took ill and died, and Hays struggled on the course.
“Finally I sat down and had a heart-to-heart talk with myself,” Hays said. “I realized I was just beating my head against a wall. I called the USGA and they told me I’d have to wait three years. Then I got a letter from them and they said it would be two years.”
So in June 2002, Hays, became an amateur again at age 57. He now plays regularly on the national senior amateur circuit.
“My attitude has really changed,” Hays said. “I don’t beat myself up over shooting 78 or 79. The guys out here I’m competing against are great, and I’ve made so many new friends. The main thing is golf is fun again.”