At Top of His Class: 2-Time USGA Champ White Also Excels as History Teacher

By David Shefter, USGA

| Jun 25, 2024 | Spartanburg, S.C.

At Top of His Class: 2-Time USGA Champ White Also Excels as History Teacher

The reigning U.S. Senior Amateur champion greets a pair of visitors in front of Spartanburg High School on a cloudy, mid-April day. Wearing a dark blue Polo and khaki pants, Todd White appears ready to step onto the first tee instead of a classroom.

But the 56-year-old, two-time USGA champion won’t be hitting any drives today, even though he’s standing on what used to be the site of a private golf course. Before this 189-acre site was transformed into a $134-million state-of-the-art public school that would make any small college envious, it was home to Lan-Yair Country Club. Thanks to a tax referendum passed by voters in 2016, Spartanburg High School opened three years later and now greets 2,200 students and 230 faculty/staff members.

White and Beth Lancaster, the communications director for the district, provide a quick tour, showing off the 7,500-seat football stadium replete with a digital media board and three-level press box, the 1,000-seat auditorium where students are going through a dress rehearsal for the spring production of The Music Man, and a basketball arena that also features a walking track on the concourse level.

Members of the district even traveled to Finland to get a blueprint for what a modern high school campus should look like. The country’s president, Alexander Stubb, played college golf for one season with White at Furman University.

As for White, many outsiders view him as the guy who has played in 37 USGA championships and represented his country on the victorious 2013 USA Walker Cup Team. But except for players on his boys’ and girls’ golf teams, and a select number of faculty members, he is simply Mr. White, history teacher.

Virtually everyone in his four classes – Government (two), World Affairs and Economics of Sports – don’t know he’s a world-class amateur golfer, good enough to claim a second USGA title last August in Northern California.

“I thought he was only a golf coach,” says Karsyn Painter, a junior in his second-period Government class. “I had no idea he was a good golfer.”

To the kids in his classes, many of whom come from financially challenged backgrounds (70 percent of the school hail from households considered at the poverty level), they only see White as the 5-foot-9 balding gentleman who smoothly delivers daily lesson plans on everything from the birth of the U.S. Constitution to what’s happening today in the judicial, legislative and executive branches in Washington, D.C.

Nothing in his classroom that once was the 17th fairway of Lan-Yair C.C. suggests White isn’t more than a history teacher. Yes, there are a couple of subtle reminders like a handful of photographs of White with George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, and Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary State under Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush – or 41 as he liked to go by – that reside under an electronic white board.

“These kids aren’t old enough to remember them,” said White.

As a member of the 2013 USA Walker Cup Team, White and his nine teammates met and played a practice round with the younger Bush at the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, N.Y. White met Rice during the players’ reception at the Country Club of Birmingham (Ala.) for the 2022 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. As a past champion – White teamed with his Walker Cup mate Nathan Smith to win the inaugural event at The Olympic Club in San Francisco in 2015 – he got a rare behind-the-scenes moment with Rice, a CCB member and avid golfer.

Like everything he does in the classroom, White, in his soothing southern drawl, tells the kids the backstory behind the photos. Whether the students absorb this information or not, White has an innate ability to connect to kids like it’s a 5-foot putt.

“Very, very intelligent,” says senior Adrianna McCullough of White.

Teaching wasn’t always a career goal for the former three-sport athlete at crosstown rival Dorman High. White was the starting quarterback and point guard on the football and basketball teams and played golf in the spring. His talent landed him a college scholarship to nearby Furman, where he was a two-time All-American. The finance/business major tried professional golf for a few years, but never gained status on any professional tour. To make ends meet, White dabbled as a substitute teacher, which led him to Converse College in Spartanburg, where he obtained his teaching certificate.

From there, he spent 11 years at Dorman High and three more at Hilton Head Island High before returning to his hometown. In fact, it was at halftime of the Dorman football game last fall where White was feted by the school for his Senior Amateur victory. It gave both schools a chance to honor one of Spartanburg’s finest.

Reigning U.S. Senior Amateur champion Todd White has taught government, world affairs and the economics of sports at Spartanburg (S.C.) High School for more than a decade. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Reigning U.S. Senior Amateur champion Todd White has taught government, world affairs and the economics of sports at Spartanburg (S.C.) High School for more than a decade. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Using the same traits he used to climb the golf hierarchy, White has applied to his teaching. He’s meticulous, respectful of others and engaging. Even though he has no children of his own – White has never been married but is engaged to his fiancé Sherri Jacob – he manages to connect on their level.

Delivering a lecture on executive privilege during his second-period Government class, he asks a student if his grades should be made public. When the student affirmatively shakes his head, White then puts that response into context for what things a U.S. president should keep confidential. This is a relatable topic to the ongoing legal issues with the removal of confidential documents from the White House.

“He certainly teaches the way he plays,” said first-year principal Dr. Andrew McMillan. “He’s competitive in the classroom. He wants his kids to do well. You can see he’s super organized. But the most important thing is Todd is very considerate. He’s a true gentleman.”   

Few people are more fastidious than White. That attention to detail is what makes him a world-class golfer. Because the USGA competition calendar often overlaps with the end of one academic year and the start of the next one, White often is gone from his job for more than a week. This spring, the school provided White a student teacher from Converse College (Virginia Moss), who has taken over several of his classes.

All of the lesson plans are prepared ahead of time, making the transition seamless.

Yet without complete cooperation from the superintendent, principal and athletic director White doesn’t play in a Walker Cup, win a pair of USGA championships or even compete in these prestigious events. In fact, many schools are reticent to give teachers that many “sick” days. Even with school on hiatus during the summer, White’s USGA competitive calendar overlaps with the end and start of the academic year.

In the district’s eye, White’s success is also Spartanburg High and District 7’s success. In the words of superintendent Jeff Stevens, who was the principal at SHS before being promoted, big dreams aren’t just limited to students. McMillan, who became SHS’ principal last summer, and longtime athletic director Todd Staley echoed those sentiments.

The school affords the same accommodations to students. Current Stanford swimmer Kirsti McEnroe missed class time when she qualified for the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials while an SHS student in 2021.

“He brings great value to our district and to our school,” said Stevens, a former Division I pitcher at Western Carolina who played one season in the Cleveland Indians’ minor-league system. “I think everybody in the country [who follows amateur golf] knows that Todd is a teacher and that he’s in Spartanburg.”

Thanks to administrators like District 7 Superintendent Jeff Stevens (pictured) and others, two-time USGA champion Todd White is allowed to use "sick" days to compete in major amateur competitions. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Thanks to administrators like District 7 Superintendent Jeff Stevens (pictured) and others, two-time USGA champion Todd White is allowed to use "sick" days to compete in major amateur competitions. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Less than 24 hours after he captured the 2023 U.S. Senior Amateur at Martis Camp in Truckee, Calif., White took a red-eye from Reno, Nev., and was back on campus at 9:45 a.m. the next day. He did the same thing after winning the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball nine years ago.

McMillan was almost stunned to see him collecting his office mail. For White, it’s a matter of priorities and he takes teaching just as seriously as his golf game.

“It’s a culture within the district,” said McMillan, a former high school basketball player who is a graduate of Newberry College. “We’re willing to be flexible. It makes teaching here attractive. There’s no reason why we can’t do both.”

Few in golf had a better August than Todd White. It started with a victory in the South Carolina Amateur against top juniors and collegians. It came 33 years after the South Carolina Golf Hall of Famer claimed his first title while an All-American at Furman. He followed that by qualifying for both the U.S. Senior Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur, the latter against some players 30 years his junior. Then he earned medalist honors during stroke play of the U.S. Senior Amateur, and six matches and four days later, he was holding up the Frederick L. Dold Trophy as the latest champion of an event that dates to 1955.

Along the way, there were some tense matches, including a 1-up, opening-round win over 2022 runner-up Jerry Gunthorpe. Brent Paterson, of New Zealand, took him to 21 holes in the Round of 32.

Ben Fulmer, a junior on the SHS golf team, kept refreshing his computer waiting for the results to become official. Staley linked his computer to his office television, and everyone in the district office, including Stevens, was tensely following the action online.

“There was a buzz around campus,” said McMillan, who only had been on the job a few weeks.

When White defeated Mike Henry in 19 holes to reach the semifinals, everyone could sense a title was forthcoming. A 2-and-1 win over 2019 runner-up Roger Newsom put White into Wednesday’s 18-hole final, which would occur in the heart of the school day.

White’s championship was already official when the girls’ golf team congregated at The Country Club of Spartanburg for a match. Serving as the substitute coach, Staley popped into the pro shop to check on a matter, just as Golf Channel was showing White’s heroic 264-yard, 5-wood uphill approach into the par-5 15th hole that stopped 10 feet from the hole and was eventually conceded for eagle to put the cap on a 4-and-3 victory.

Moments after the win, an emotional White was virtually speechless.

Meanwhile, his girls’ golf team gathered for a team photo with Staley holding up a Fathead of White’s likeness.

“That just shows our Team 7 approach,” White said. “[Girls’] golf season is underway and our athletic director with so many responsibilities takes time from his busy schedule to make sure my girls are taken care of while I’m in California. I am unable to do [these] things without that kind of support.”

“It makes us feel honored that he’s our coach,” said senior Laney Brothers, who has played for White since he took over the program six years ago. “It makes us want to play better.”

Staley made the long drive to watch White at Shinneock Hills when he qualified for the 1995 U.S. Open during his brief professional career. The two have been friends for 31 years and share the same first and middle name (Michael Todd) as well as a love for athletics. Both were born two weeks apart in November, both were high school quarterbacks – Staley in Burlington, N.C. – and each drove the same model Toyota (Celica). And they each love golf.

“The only difference is he is a heck of a lot better than I was in both sports,” said Staley, an Appalachian State graduate.

As the golf coach, White gives his team three simple rules. Winning, of course, is important, but properly representing yourself and the school is just as paramount. White doesn’t tolerate profanity or club tossing. The first violation results in a half-season suspension, the second automatic expulsion. Any player caught cheating is immediately kicked off the squad.

Earlier this season, Connor Williams, a junior whose father, Van, is the head men’s golf coach at Wofford College in Spartanburg, walked off a par 5 with what White thought was a birdie. When the coach remarked as such, Williams responded that he made a 5 because when he grounded his club in the fairway, his ball had moved from its original location. Nobody but Williams saw the infraction, but White was proud of his player for having the integrity to call the penalty.

Last year, he learned a hard lesson when he incorrectly signed his scorecard during a U.S. Junior Amateur qualifier that cost him a possible spot in the field.

The Vikings do have plenty of talent to go with their good etiquette. They have made the two-day state 5A finals in eight of White’s first 10 seasons, including runner-up in 2023. The girls’ team finished a program-best eighth two years ago.

“Six years ago, [Staley] came to me and said the girls’ golf coach had stepped aside,” said White, who had been with the boys since returning to SHS. “We need someone. Could you coach the girls’ golf team? I had never coached girls’ sports before. I said I would do it. I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve told them this, but the last six years with them has been a very rewarding experience for me. A lot of it is because of these two (seniors A.C. Harrill and Brothers) right there.”

Members of the Spartanburg (S.C.) High boys' and girls' golf teams (left to right) Ben Fullmer, Connor Williams, A.C. Harrill, Laney Brothers and Hugh Lemonds are some of the few at the school who know Todd White is one of the country's elite amateurs. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Members of the Spartanburg (S.C.) High boys' and girls' golf teams (left to right) Ben Fullmer, Connor Williams, A.C. Harrill, Laney Brothers and Hugh Lemonds are some of the few at the school who know Todd White is one of the country's elite amateurs. (USGA/Chris Keane)

Coaching the two teams requires different methods; the girls tend to be more emotional and shed a lot more tears, while he can be a bit tougher on the guys. The girls will even address formerly address by his given name (Michael Todd); the boys simply call him “Coach.”

“We’ve definitely challenged him with his coaching,” said Harrill, who was on the team throughout White’s coaching tenure with the girls.

Added senior Hugh Lemonds, who won last year’s South Carolina Match Play: “We definitely listen to him more than other coaches.”

When asked the best aspect of White’s coaching, none of the five players assembled on this Wednesday morning hesitated: “Chick-fil-A!” The Atlanta-based chain is a popular pre- and/or post-match stop.

Lunch hour is vastly approaching but White still has another final class before he can eat. A couple of years ago, he came up with the idea of creating an Economics of Sport elective to show students there are more avenues into the business of sports than just playing.

Upon arrival, the small group of eight kids notice eight high schools written on the digital white board. They represent Spartanburg’s 2024 football opponents. White asks each student to take one of the teams and research past regular-season and playoff results and put that data into a Word document.

The assignment might feel mundane, but White explains how vital this information is to fans, media and any other interested parties.

With so much emphasis these days on apps and websites, White took the responsibility of updating the school’s athletic website and app to create a better fan experience. That includes a digital football program for both home and away games. Leave it to a history teacher to know the importance of documenting past results.

So when White has a free afternoon from coaching, he’ll spend time updating the athletic website. On his whiteboard, he had the upcoming schedules for many of the school’s 24 athletic teams.

For White, this brings him as much pride as winning a USGA title.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.