Sarah White has known since age 5 that she wanted to be a professional golfer.
When a producer from ABC’s “Holey Moley” discovered her on Instagram and asked if she would be interested in trying out for the extreme mini-golf show, it wasn’t exactly the role she’d pictured growing up. But she’s competitive, and well, why not? It could be fun.
“I don’t know how to train for this,” White said of the ziplines, inflatables, hazardous port-a-potties, mechanical gopher and daunting solar system. The road to the LPGA doesn’t typically go through Hollywood, but nothing about 2020 has been predictable.
White turned pro at the start of the year and planned to attend LPGA Q-School after she finished her degree at Texas State in the spring. The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, canceled qualifying for the season.
Suddenly mini-tour golf was the only thing left.
A fifth-place finish at the Texarkana Children’s Charities Open on the Women’s All Pro Tour earned White $1,690 and a spot in the Symetra Tour’s Tribute at Longbow Golf Club in Meza, Ariz. She took full advantage of the opportunity by winning in her first Symetra Tour start, edging Casey Danielson and Sophia Popov by one stroke. Popov went on to win the AIG Women’s British Open the next week at Royal Troon in extraordinary fashion.
“I was just a nobody on the mini-tours,” said White, who won $18,750 for her efforts.
This week White enters the Mission Inn Resort and Club Championship at Howey-in-The-Hills, Fla., at 73rd on the Symetra Tour’s money list with $3,306. Her winner’s check in Arizona doesn’t count because she was a non-member at the time. If her unofficial earnings and official earnings were combined, she’d be 13th on the money list. The top five players this season earn LPGA cards for 2021. There are three events left on the schedule.
White, 23, understands why her money isn’t official, but “it just stinks.”
“Just makes me want to work harder,” she said.
When the pandemic hit, White and her coach, Craig Piscopink, went to work on overhauling her putting. If you’re going to make a cake, he asked her, what’s the main ingredient?
When it comes to putting, he said, speed is the flour.
White focused on the main ingredient for nine weeks and it changed everything.
Piscopink said she shaved a significant number of strokes on the greens. At the Texarkana event, White led the field with 20 birdies. At Longbow, she finished 15 under par.
Couple that with the raw athleticism White possesses, and her potential skyrocketed.
White, inspired by older brother Brett, played boys hockey for 14 years. She started out as a forward until puberty hit and the game got more physical. Move to girls hockey, her dad told her, or move to goalie. “You’re not getting thrown around on the boards,” he said.
Competing against the boys fueled White’s competitive drive. She had to prove, too, that she wasn’t going to be scared off by a hard shot. Wasn’t going to be outworked, either.
“I didn’t want to be as good as them,” she said. “I wanted to be better.”
Brett was on the bag for his sister’s Symetra Tour victory and won the Michigan Open two weeks later.
“He was trying to one-up me,” she said.
The siblings have a habit of scripting remarkable tales. Golf Digest’s Joel Beall detailed Brett’s comeback from a life-threatening brain infection in 2017 that left him unable to walk or talk. In November 2019, he won the Nevada Open.
The Whites are fighters. When asked about her goals for the rest of 2020, Sarah said she’s in a “never settle” mindset.
“I don’t necessarily write them down because I don’t want them to just be a stopping point,” she said. “I want to break through them.”
In high school, Sarah used to volunteer at the LPGA’s Meijer Classic, which takes place 25 minutes from her house. One year she directed foot traffic in a booth. One year she worked in the kids zone. She’d go out on the course and watch players like Gerina Piller and Lexi Thompson go about their business and noted that while she had the length, her short game is what needed to improve.
White currently ranks third on the Symetra Tour in driving distance at 288-96 yards. She carries her 3-wood 250. Piscopink said her cruising speed with the driver is 107 to 108 mph, but that she has an extra gear that kicks it to 115.
“When I first saw her walk in the door,” Piscopink said, “I said ‘Wow, this is it.’ She’s got the complete package.”
And it’s all coming together at warp speed.