Todd White (USGA Photo)
Over the years, the administration at Spartanburg (S.C.) High School has been quite accommodating to Todd White’s
amateur golf career, giving him time off to compete in numerous USGA championships, including the 2013 Walker Cup. The history teacher and boys’ and girls’ golf coach made his excused absence worthwhile this past week at Martis Camp Club, as the 55-year-old from Spartanburg is bringing home a shiny piece of hardware to show off to the faculty and students.
The top seed claimed the Frederick L. Dold Trophy as the champion of the 68th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship on a glorious Thursday in the Lake Tahoe area, defeating Jody Fanagan
, 58, of the Republic of Ireland, 4 and 3, in the 18-hole final. It is the second USGA title for White, who captured the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball title in 2015 with 2013 USA Walker Cup teammate Nathan Smith at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. That’s two gold medals in the Golden State.
White also became the ninth stroke-play medalist to win the championship and the first since Northern Californian Jeff Wilson achieved the feat five years ago at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club. Fanagan, meanwhile, came up one match short in his bid to be the first international winner of the Senior Amateur, the lone USGA event without a foreign-born champion.
Moments after closing out the match on the par-5 15th green, White fought through emotions to put this victory into perspective.
“At this point in time … words fail me,” said White, the 2023 South Carolina Amateur champion. “I sit here and I look at all the hard work that's gone into it over the course of my life, and it's just incredible validation of that work.
“Hopefully it's something that I can take back with me into my career in the classroom and show the students that hard work does pay off, and nothing is given to you. You have to earn it. I feel like that's what I've done here this week is I've earned it.”
White’s path to the title wasn’t easy, and there were a few bumps along the way. He gutted out a 1-up win in the Round of 64 on Monday over 2021 runner-up Jerry Gunthorpe. He twice went extra holes, defeating 2023 R&A Senior Amateur champion Brent Paterson (Round of 32) in 21 holes and Mike Henry (quarterfinals) in 19. He needed seven birdies to oust 2019 runner-up Roger Newsom, 2 and 1, in the semifinals.
But the experience of playing in USGA championships – this was his 35th – paid off in his maiden U.S. Senior Amateur.
Still, he went to bed Wednesday night thinking that Fanagan already had knocked off one guy with the initials TW (in the 1995 Walker Cup, he and partner Padraig Harrington defeated Tiger Woods and John Harris in foursomes at Royal Porthcawl in Wales), so why not beat a second. Comforting text messages from teachers, family members, and his fiancé, Sherri Jacobs, settled his nerves.
Then he went out and performed like he had all week on the challenging Tom Fazio design.
It took White a few holes to get warm, but once the mercury reached the 70s following temperatures hovering in the upper 40s for the 8 a.m. PDT start, the Southerner heated up. He dropped the opening hole to the Irishman, who is accustomed to playing in chilly conditions on the Emerald Isle, but that birdie would be his only win of the match.
A conceded birdie on the 461-yard, par-4 fifth hole tied the match, and White took the lead for good with an exquisite up-and-down birdie from a greenside bunker on the 555-yard, par-5 seventh that stopped inches from the flagstick. Fanagan had a chance to tie the hole, but lipped out a 4-foot putt.
White’s 150-yard, pitching-wedge approach from the left rough on the 458-yard ninth hole stopped 4 feet from the hole, setting up a winning birdie and a 2-up advantage going into the second nine.
“I struggled a little bit on the greens, but it wasn't my day today, and he deserved it,” said a gracious Fanagan, the director of Fanagan Funeral Directors, a family business with 11 locations in the country. “[The] pins were difficult. It's hard. The pressure that Todd puts you under … he played so well.”
Fanagan fell 3 holes down on No. 12 with a double bogey, eventually conceding White’s 5-foot par putt, and two holes later, White got up and down for par from a greenside bunker, converting a 6-footer.
On the par-5 15th hole, Fanagan pulled his tee shot left, forcing him to punch out. Meanwhile, White, faced with a 264-yard, uphill shot – with the adjustment for altitude – to a flagstick tucked in the back-right portion of the green, pulled off a 5-wood approach eerily similar to the one Scottie Scheffler hit 10 years ago en route to the U.S. Junior Amateur title at Martis Camp. White’s ball took a couple of hops through greenside rough above a bunker and stopped 10 feet from the hole.
When Fanagan missed his 30-footer for birdie, he conceded White’s putt, took off his hat and congratulated the new champion.
“It's one of those where I had to do so much math this week with the altitude and the uphill/downhill [shots], I just hope they don't ask me to teach math when I go back to school tomorrow,” said White.
Despite the disappointment of the loss, Fanagan, the 2022 Irish Open Senior Stroke Play champion, was upbeat about his first USGA experience. Convinced by friends and Englishmen Rupert Kellock and Stephen Jensen to file an entry, Fanagan used his spot in the World Amateur Golf Ranking® to become exempt from having to qualify.
Then four holes into stroke play, he found himself 4 over par after a triple-bogey 7 on the 13th hole. He righted the ship to earn the 19th seed for match play and worked his way through five matches, including a 19-hole win over 2019 champion Bob Royak in the semis, to become the first international finalist.
“I think it's very significant, the World Rankings,” said Fanagan. “It gives you an entry into these great events. I think it's a better event when you have people from overseas playing, so if they can qualify through those rankings, I think we've proved if you are in that top 30 [of age-eligible points leaders], you can play. It's a big effort to come over, but I loved every minute of it.”
White and Fanagan were part of the first U.S. Senior Amateur final between Walker Cup alums from the USA and Great Britain, and both will certainly be keeping an eye on the proceedings at St. Andrews this weekend for the 49th edition of the Match.
White hopes the outcome will be similar to what transpired at Martis Camp.
WHAT THE CHAMPION RECEIVES
- A gold medal
- Possession of the Frederick L. Dold Trophy for one year
- Exemptions into the next 10 U.S. Senior Amateur Championships
- Exemption into the 2024 U.S. Senior Open Championship at Newport (R.I.) Country Club (must be an amateur)
- Exemptions into the 2024 and 2025 U.S. Amateur Championships at Hazeltine National Golf Club and The Olympic Club, respectively
- Exemptions into the 2023 and 2024 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships at Sleepy Hollow Country Club and Troon Country Club, respectively
- His name on the 2023 USGA champions’ plaque that is housed in the USGA Museum’s Hall of Champions in Liberty Corner, N.J.