JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Todd White had the honor of representing his country last fall as part of the victorious 2013 USA Walker Cup Team, scoring a crucial point during Sunday’s singles to help regain the cup from Great Britain & Ireland. This week at Atlanta Athletic Club, the 46-year-old once again finds himself among the game’s rising stars, this time as a U.S. Amateur competitor.
White chose to pursue a career in education after playing collegiately at Furman University and is now a high school history teacher in his hometown of Spartanburg, S.C. He was one of two mid-amateurs named to last year’s USA team, along with four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and good friend Nathan Smith. The two of them and Jordan Niebrugge, who is entering his junior year at Oklahoma State University, are the only players from that team in the field this week, with the other five team members having turned pro.
By making the team, White earned an exemption into the Amateur, allowing him to avoid sectional qualifying, a process he would have gladly gone through if necessary.
I still try to measure myself competitively against the college kids because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that they’re the ones that are at the top of the game right now with the way they hit the golf ball, said White, who shot a 1-over 73 on Monday on the Highlands Course. If I wasn’t exempt, there is no doubt that I would be trying to qualify for this championship.
White’s opening round has him well within reach of earning a spot in match play heading into Tuesday’s second round, something he has accomplished in three of his four previous U.S. Amateur starts. As somebody who has played at an elite level for so many years, he knows the importance of staying in the present when competing for a national championship.
The Walker Cup was last September, and while that is the highlight of my golfing career, you have to put that behind you as you compete in these events, because I want to make match play, and I want to see just how far I can go.
Seven Bring Pinehurst Lessons to AAC
There are as many ways to prepare for the U.S. Amateur Championship as there are players in the field (312). Only seven of this year’s competitors, however, have the opportunity to draw on their experiences from this year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, about 5½ hours up the road from Atlanta Athletic Club.
Brian Campbell, of Irvine, Calif.; Andrew Dorn, of West Chester, Ohio; Will Grimmer, of Cincinnati; Brandon McIver, of Billings, Mont.; Maverick McNealy, of Portola Valley, Calif.; Robby Shelton, of Wilmer, Ala.; and Hunter Stewart of Lexington, Ky., all earned exemptions into the U.S. Amateur by virtue of competing in the U.S. Open. While none of them made the 36-hole cut at Pinehurst, they learned valuable lessons in the company of the world’s best players.
It helped my game tremendously, said Shelton. It helps just to see all the pros play. Shelton, the 2014 Phil Mickelson National Freshman of the Year at the University of Alabama, shot a 3-under 68 on the Highlands Course in Monday’s first round.
McNealy, who shot a 1-under 71 on the Riverside Course and had his father on the bag as he did at Pinehurst, said, Playing a course [Pinehurst No. 2] that difficult makes you much better as a player. I found from the start that it exposed the weaknesses in my game and gave me stuff to work on to prepare for this championship.
Campbell is also drawing from his experience this week.
You’re more calm and comfortable in these big tournaments, he said. Just being on the range and hitting the ball next to people I’ve looked up to all my life, and seeing how they prepare brings more professionalism into your game.
Grimmer posted a 2-under 69, McIver an even-par 71, and Stewart an even-par 72, while Dorn struggled to an 8-over 79. Still, the rewards of playing in the U.S. Open will surely continue to pay off for this group of seven.
Zalatoris (69) Leads USGA Champions in Field
Will Zalatoris may be 16 days removed from winning the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, but he brought his stellar form to the 114th U.S. Amateur Championship on Monday.
Zalatoris, of Plano, Texas, shot a 3-under-par 69 on the Atlanta Athletic Club’s par-72 Riverside Course to sit tied for seventh after Round 1 of the 36-hole stroke-play qualifying. He also posted the lowest first-round score of the seven USGA champions in this week’s field.
Zalatoris is taking the same mental approach that won him his U.S. Junior Amateur title, a 5-and-3 victory over Davis Riley at The Club at Carlton Woods in The Woodlands, Texas.
Just kind of the same thing, he said. I can’t win it today, I can’t even win it on Saturday. So just take one step at a time. First goal to make match play, then after that, get in the round of 64, beat that guy. Just one at a time. I can’t win the championship on the first tee, either.
In addition to Zalatoris, fellow members of the USGA winner’s fraternity include Doug Hanzel, of Savannah, Ga. (2013 U.S. Senior Amateur Championship); Michael McCoy, of Des Moines, Iowa (2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship); Byron Meth, of San Diego, Calif. (2014 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship); Jordan Niebrugge, of Mequon, Wis. (2013 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship); Scottie Scheffler, of Dallas (2013 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship); and Nathan Smith, of Pittsburgh (2012 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship).
Scheffler shot a 1-under 71 on the Riverside Course.
Got the first tee ball on the fairway, he said. I think I birdied the first hole so I was feeling pretty good, but after that I couldn't really get anything going. But still happy with my round today. Hopefully it's not too far back, and I'll have a little room to work with tomorrow on the Highlands.
Scheffler will have plenty of company, as six of the seven players opened on the Riverside Course. McCoy and Smith shot even-par 72, Niebrugge shot 2-over 74 and Hanzel shot 75. Meth shot 1-under 70 on the par-71 Highlands Course, which will be used for match play beginning on Wednesday.
Scott Lipsky (email@example.com) is the USGA’s manager of websites and digital platforms. Greg Midland and Stuart Hall also contributed.