The people who line up on the terrace of the clubhouse at Congressional, just above the scorer's tent, where the players sign their cards, can tell which golfers have just made the cut. Here comes one of them. Look at the smile on his face, the hearty slaps he takes on the shoulder. The fans have no idea who he is, but they want his autograph. The first kid to offer up his pen and hat didn't hear this player's brother's words of congratulations—"Way to go, Burrhead!"—so he makes a wild stab at identification. "Is your first name Matt?" he asks.
"No," says the golfer, "it's David."
"Are you David Maggert?" asks an older fan, offering a rumpled pairing sheet.
"That's Jeff Maggert," the golfer corrects. "I'm David White."
That was the end of the autograph line, so there was no one to ask the next logical question: Is that David White the aspiring financial consultant or David White the blossoming professional—for now—golfer?
A few months ago White, 26, thought he had this all figured out. After three years of kicking around in the bush leagues of pro golf, he had quit the Hooters tour and headed home for Little Rock, Ark. Happily back in the embrace of his friends and large, tight-knit family—all of whom affectionately call him Burrhead in memory of an unfortunate haircut 20 years ago—he had petitioned the USGA to reinstate his amateur status, even though it meant he couldn't take prize money in any pro event or enter any amateur competition until the reinstatement process was completed, in 2000. He had found a job as a financial consultant trainee at Merrill Lynch and was studying for the Series 7 exam, the test aspiring stockbrokers must pass before they're allowed to sell securities. He was, in fact, originally scheduled to take the test on June 16.
Then, in May, White decided to take a shot at the Open. He had tried and failed on six previous occasions, and his heart wasn't entirely in it this time. The night before he was to make the eight-hour drive to Springfield, Ill., for the regional qualifier, White changed his mind and decided to stay home. But in the morning he changed his mind again, got in the car and drove 90 miles before turning around. The next day, the last day of practice rounds, he got up at 4 a.m., drove to Springfield, got in a practice round and then fell into bed, exhausted. Still tired the following morning, he shot a 69 and won a playoff for the fourth and final slot in the sectional.
In the next round of qualifying, in Columbus, Ohio, he was paired with Tour veteran Mark Wiebe and shot 71-68 to tie for third, earning a place in the field at Congressional. But White had to make a decision: Should he play the Open as an amateur or should he ask the USGA to disregard his earlier request, enter the Open as a pro and maybe make some cash? "It wasn't that big of a dilemma for me," says White. "I was only throwing away four months' credit toward regaining my amateur status. I couldn't help thinking, What if I have the week of my life?"
So on June 9, the day he officially entered the Open, White did so as a pro. He then had the week of his life. White put up with a few slights, as the anonymous members of an Open field usually do. For instance, the stats that appeared with his bio in the USGA press guide belonged to a different David White, and after he finished the first round on the leader board with an even-par 70, a number of newspapers wiped him off it by misreporting his score the next day as a mathematically impossible 34-36-72. But he got in two star-spangled practice rounds, one with Tom Watson, whose advice to White on dealing with Congressional's capriciously breaking greens was "Heck with it"; and one with Tom Lehman, who complimented White on his club head speed.
Growing up in Little Rock, White had dreamed of such high-level hobnobbing, and after two All-America seasons at Arkansas (1993 and '94), he set out on his professional odyssey. Backed by his grandfather's Sparkman, Ark., lumber company, White hit the mini-tours. Occasionally he played well, but never well enough for long enough. The travel was brutal, the nights were lonely and the money, at times, laughable. "I once got a check for $28," says White, chuckling. "What was I going to do with that?" He cashed it, of course.