This month we sit down with André White, PGA Golf Professional at Manawatu Golf Club in Palmerston North. Coach to PGA Tour player Tim Wilkinson and many other male and female NZ representative players.
How old were you when you started playing golf and who got you started?
I was 16 years old when I started playing golf which was, in old terms, the 6th Form at school. I still remember the very first golf shot I ever hit. I could take you to the exact spot; we were at Colenso High School in Napier and Mr Cotterill our P.E teacher said, “Today we are going to play Golf”. I was gutted as I thought it was a stupid game but lined up on the touchline of the school rugby field as per instructed. I hit a Spalding Tournament 5 Iron to the other end of the field – see how clear this is in my mind – I even know the model of club I used. It only went 100m but I was hooked after that one shot. It literally changed my life. Up until that day, I was a straight-A student at school but only a year later, well, please see the next answer.
2. Was there a defining moment when you decided to become a professional golfer?
Only a year or so after I started playing, when my 7th Form accounting teacher, Mrs Grant saw that I was not doing any schoolwork, and hadn’t done for months, and asked me “Is there any reason you are still here?” When I said “No” she gave me a leave sign-out form to take home and give my parents. After Mum read the form and realised what it meant, she simply asked, “What now?” I told her that I was going to be a Golf Professional. Two and a half years after I hit that first ball, I was a Trainee Golf Professional working in Auckland and was playing in my first New Zealand Open. I shot 70 in the first round and was beating the current U.S Open Champion. It is only in hindsight that I realise what meteoric progress I made so early. At the time I thought nothing of it.
3. How far can you hit your 7 Iron?
Generally, 140m is what I work on.
4. You played competitively for a while. How did that go and what memories really stand out from that time?
I played well enough to pay my own way and come out with a few more dollars than when I started. I won a few smaller events in New Zealand and Australia but in the long run, I was never going to be a great player hitting it short and straight. I travelled throughout Australia, the Pacific and Asia playing and would not give up the experience for the world as it shaped me and the way I coach. After missing one too many cuts for my liking, I applied for the job at Palmerston North Golf Club. My plan was to be there for a year, see how I liked it, but probably go back playing again. It’s now coming up 27 years later and I am still in Palmerston North, albeit at a different club.
5. What was your lowest round? What was the score and where did you play?
I hit 57 in the first round at the Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort Tournament. It was only 5 under, but as it was so windy, everyone told me what a great round it was and that I would be the first-round leader. Ian Stanley from Australia came in when the wind dropped and shot 13 under. So much for me being first-round leader!
I’ve shot 8 under a few times in tournaments but let’s be honest, 57 sounds way better than 64, so I’ll go with that.
6. How many “hole-in-ones” have you had?
I have only had one on the 16th hole at Maraenui in Napier, probably 6 to 12 months after I started.
7. Who’s $10 would you most like to win on a clutch putt on the 18th green?
That’s easy: Tiger Woods as 1) He can afford it, 2) I’ve just spent 5 + hours with the greatest player in history and 3) I’ve played out of my mind to be able to beat him. We know that really wouldn’t happen, so let’s say, my Dad, as I only ever got to play one game of golf with him before he died. And, for the record, I would not ask Dad to pay up though!
8. If you could pick any three people, alive or dead, to play within a four-ball, who would they be? And is there any particular reason for your choices?
Well, it would obviously be my Dad, then I’d take Winston Churchill and Pontius Pilate. Imagine the conversation there!
9. Who is your favourite player to watch and why?
My favourite player has to be Tiger Woods. I’ve been privileged enough to have PGA Tour credentials that allow me to be on the range at Tour events. Being only a few metres away and watching him hit balls is special and I have watched him numerous times in the past 10 years or so. Seeing the public’s reaction to him when he attends an event is surreal. Being at the Masters this year when he won, was an experience unlike any other; especially being front row, greenside on 18 when he made the winning putt. The patrons went ballistic. Apart from Tiger, I love watching players like Jim Furyk and Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey. They have extremely unconventional swings and I get a huge buzz out of studying to understand how they make it work. I am an advocate of function over form whereby, how it works is more important than how it looks. As such, I am very much looking forward to my first Tour event in which Matthew Wolf is playing. He absolutely intrigues me, and I’ll be like a kid at a pet store, looking at puppy dogs when I get to see his swing firsthand.
10. What is the funniest thing you have seen or experienced on a golf course?
That is easy! That would have to be in 1995, at the Blue Mountains in NSW Australia, when I was playing a best ball event with Andrew Whiley, NZPGA Golf Professional. I shot 64 and had 2 bogeys and had the best score on all 18 holes. Andrew did not contribute once. Anytime he looked like counting, I holed a great putt and even chipped in. I still laugh when I realise that he could have sat in the clubhouse playing Tiddly-Winks for all the use he was that day!
11. What is your role at the Manawatu Golf Club, and how long have you been there?
Having started here in 2005, I was the shop owner up until 2016. Now, I currently work for the Club and have a combined role of coach, corporate day organiser, golf trips organiser and retailer. I came here after shifting from the Palmerston North Golf Club where I had been since 1992.
12. Outside of the Manawatu Golf Club, what is your favourite golf course to play?
My favourite course is Pebble Beach, as it combines course design, scenery and history – plus the accommodation there is phenomenal. If I picked a region to play it would be the sand belt in Melbourne, although I would love to play throughout Ireland.
13. You have established a great coaching programme at the Manawatu Golf Club and worked with many great players. Why has the Manawatu region produced so many great players?
1) The club here is extremely supportive of all things to do with Juniors. 2) We are so close to the city that kids can get here in a few minutes bike ride rather than a long car ride. This means they play more often. 3) The course lends itself to having to hit it very straight, to control the ball flight in the wind and to have a good short game. 4) The practice facilities are fantastic. 5) The Pro-Staff run a great junior coaching and tournament program to encourage competition
14. You attend the Masters at Augusta every year assisting a corporate events golf manager. How did this come about and what do you do?
I ran a Club Member’s trip there in 2015 and the person I used for Masters badges (tickets), accommodation, transfers, catering etc. He liked how I did it, so asked if I could come back each year and help him. Basically, I am customer relations for a Canadian company – www.thepatronscaddy.com – I look after the guests with everything from airport pickup and drop-offs, to taking them into the Masters and giving them a guided tour of the course. It also allows me to tell anyone that if they ever want to go to the Masters that I will be there and can take care of them. That is pretty cool and a privilege that I never take for granted.
15. What is the most memorable time or experience you have had on the golf course?
I think the first time I was at a PGA Tour event with Tim Wilkinson, ranks right up there. Having worked with him since he was 14 years old, it meant that both he and I had reached the pinnacle of our chosen careers and that all the time and work put in to get there, was worth it. I am confident in saying that any PGA Professional would love to have a student make it to the PGA or LPGA Tour and hold credentials that allow them to access inside the ropes.
16. If you weren’t a golf professional what would you be doing?
Well, that is a good question and I’m not sure. When I was at school, my argumentative nature was probably leaning me towards being a Court Lawyer or my analytical mind would have seen me become an Accountant. Mrs Grant, my accounting teacher, who was also a member at Maraenui Golf Club where I was a junior, put paid to this as per my answer to Question 2. I often smile when I think what a favour Mrs Grant did me and wonder what she would think now.
17. Besides spending time with family, what are your favourite things to do away from the golf course?
I’m a bit of a golf junkie, so I like playing, practising or following the game. I mow my lawn like a fairway so that tells you something. I also like Long Bow Archery as it has a lot of similarities to the focus required to play golf. Oh, actually throw in some Star Wars LEGO and combined you get a pretty good idea of my mentality.
18. What is your favourite golf movie?
For me it has to be “The Greatest Game Ever Played”, but the book was even better!