Although White made many friends and came to find a certain charm in the Motel 6 chain, he missed his family. "Most people have a love-hate relationship with golf," says White. "I hated what it took me away from. I could've gotten to the point where I was making big money, but I didn't want to be 35 and single and find it wasn't going to happen. I'd have given up so much for so little."
When he failed Q school for the third time last November, White was looking at another year on the Hooters circuit, so he quit before the tour began in March. "I was relieved," he says. "I felt like I had definitely made the right decision."
His friends and family weren't so sure. While they wanted "what was best for David," says his mother, Joy, they wondered if he was giving up too soon. "Even my boss at Merrill Lynch told me I was crazy to give it up," says White.
"I had mixed emotions," says David's father, John, who caddied for his son last week at Congressional. "I always thought he was gifted. I'd give a million dollars to be a professional sportsman. I guess it was a dream of mine, too."
"We all think he can play with the best of them," says White's older brother, John Ray, a lawyer in Little Rock. "His mind has kept him from scoring with the best of them."
Until last week. At challenging Congressional, among the glitterati of golf, White found his groove. With his mom, two of three siblings and various in-laws, relatives and friends in his gallery, White played like the pro his family and friends always knew he could be. Last Thursday he sprayed drives all over the course but recovered well. "I'm not really surprised to see myself on the leader board," White said after the round. "This kind of course matches my game."
With heightened expectations, White showed plenty of composure in the second round, especially during a potential disaster in the middle of the back nine. After bogeying the 13th hole to go one over par for the tournament, White hit an approach into the rough at the par-4 14th and flew his next shot over the grandstands and nearly onto the 15th tee. His fourth shot landed in more rough and his fifth only made it to the edge of the green, about 20 feet from the hole. As the gallery looked on with dread, White pulled out his putter, then decided to use a wedge. When his chip rolled into the hole, White pumped his fist, and his family hollered, "All right, Burrhead!" White followed the triumphant double bogey with two birdies and finished at two over. "That's a new David White you're seeing," said his sister, Carrie. "A year ago he would have blown up and triple-bogeyed or walked away with a 10 on that hole. But he hung in there today. I'm so proud of him."
So was First Arkansan Bill Clinton, who beckoned White to his box next to the 16th green on Sunday after White had missed a 50-foot putt for birdie. Sprinting around a bunker, White was nearly thrown to the ground by Secret Service agents before he was allowed to shake hands with the President.
That was the only time all week that White felt overwhelmed. "I learned that on my good days, I'm as good as most of the guys out here," he says. "There's not anyone who intimidates me."
White had rounds of 73-77 on the weekend and finished 51st, 16 strokes behind winner Ernie Els. Playing four rounds in the Open, he says, gave him a huge confidence boost "as a person, not as a golfer," but he doesn't see it changing his current professional course.