Epson Tour player Sarah White will tee off at the second stage of Q-School this week with her brother on the bag. No surprise there. Under normal circumstances, that would elicit a shrug and a “nice for them” nod. The majority of the Q-School field has family members carrying clubs. A brother doubling as a caddie is about as dog-bites-man as a golf story gets. But this tale has a couple of twists.
For starters, Brett White, who is two years older than Sarah, just advanced through the second stage of Korn Ferry Tour qualifying and will play the PGA TOUR’s qualifying series in 2022. Should both Whites make it to the next level, they will join the Lees, Minjee and Min Woo. and Lexi and Curtis Thompson as Tour professional siblings.
“My brother got me into the game,” Sarah said. “It has always been about my brother, me and golf. We have been in this journey together since we started. I was five and he was seven [when we got into golf]. I was that annoying little sister who wanted to be like my brother.”
Golf wasn’t Sarah’s only sport. She was the starting goaltender for East Kentwood High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She also appeared on the ABC gameshow Holey Moley, which was a mixture of miniature golf and an obstacle course. Think Big Break meets American Ninja Warrior with a little Wipeout thrown in and you get the idea. The show never caught on but Sarah’s reputation as a talented athlete did. She began her college golf career at Western Michigan before transferring to Texas State University in San Marcos. Through it all, Brett was there to support her.
“I’ve always known we were in this together,” Sarah said. “We’ve just had a lot of time together, practicing together, playing in tournaments. I remember, he would have an 8:00 a.m. tee time and I was out at like 2:00. When he’d get done, he’d come out and watch me. Our dad was out there for 36 [holes] a day.”
It was a great family golf story, right up until the moment it wasn’t.
There is another chapter to the White’s tale, one that makes Brett’s presence at Plantation Golf and Country Club even more special.
In the summer of 2017, Brett had been playing the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica before returning to the states for some summer events. He’d just lost in a three-way playoff at the New Hampshire State Open when he felt as though he couldn’t swallow. The next week, in the Rhode Island State Open, he felt his throat closing up. That’s when he knew he was in trouble. A couple of trips to urgent care later, doctors advised Brett to head to the hospital immediately. A virus was causing his brain to swell. Soon, he lost balance and equilibrium and had trouble remembering simple things.
Emergency doctors arrested the swelling. But Brett couldn’t walk or stand. No one would tell him if the situation would improve. Brain infections remain a mystery, even to the most skilled medical professionals. Brett began a 10-week regimen of rehab, which started with him being held upright in a harness. But on Day One, he had a golf club and asked the nurses to help him swing it as part of his therapy.
This is Brett White a little over three years ago. A brain infection almost killed him. He had to learn to walk and talk again. He had to be held up by a belt as he swung. He’s T7 at Q school and two rounds away from getting his KFT card. pic.twitter.com/2hsWI6csMF
— Monday Q Info (@acaseofthegolf1) October 14, 2021
“He swung a club before he was able to walk straight,” Sarah said, her voice ticking up with pride when recounting her brother’s story. “He was working on his backswing the moment he could stand up without getting nauseated.”
Sarah had trouble going back to Texas State for her junior year. But classes started two weeks after Brett was admitted. “It was really scary,” she said. “It was all about his health and getting back to normal.”
Thankfully, Brett fought all the way back. By the end of Sarah’s fall season, he came out to watch her. “He walked a couple of holes before being so tired that he had to take a nap in the car,” she said. “It was wonderful that he made the effort. To see him out there walking, if it was two holes, or seven holes, or nine holes, it meant the world to me.”
“When you go through what I went through, it changes your perspective on life and on what’s important,” Brett said while standing on the putting green helping his sister with last minute preparations before one of the biggest weeks of her career. “It’s sounds cliché because it’s true. I know now that it’s not the end of the world if you make a bogey. I know not to get too high or too low, and never to get too mad because it can always be worse.
“I’m happy to be on a golf course. When I was lying in a hospital bed not knowing if I was ever going to walk again, it was like ‘I just hope I can come back and play nine holes for recreation.’ After I got released from the hospital, the thing that kept me going was that I felt like myself. Mentally, I knew I was still the same. If I could get back physically, I felt like maybe I could still compete.”
He did better than that. In 2020, Brett won the Michigan State Open. And this fall, he earned a spot on the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour.
“My brother is a big inspiration because of what he’s been through,” Sarah said. “We’re very close. I’ve caddied for him a couple of times. It’s worked out that he can caddie for me more than I can for him because I was full-time on Epson. But our communication is great. He can tell me what I’m thinking.”
“What happened has given me a better perspective on the golf course,” Brett said. “I’m a lot more patient. And I try to pass that along to Sarah. Golf is a very individual game. Sometimes you can get in your own way. That happens to everybody. So, it’s good to have a voice from someone who has been through some ups and down to tell you, hey, everything’s going to be alright.”