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My Passion: Phil White

The Wells Fargo regional director on how golf taught him to referee himself and to recharge.
Jonathan Zizzo
My Passion: Golf

Phil White is fairly certain his first golf club was one his dad cut in half to be child-friendly. He can’t remember how old he was, but at that time, a full-sized club’s handle would have reached his head. “We lived right on the golf course,” he says, adding that his father was a golf course superintendent. “In my family, you were a golfer or nothing. Everybody got introduced to golf at a very early age.”

White became serious about golf as a high school sophomore. He played in the 1968 and 1969 U.S. Junior Amateur Championships. His older brother had joined the Texas Tech University men’s golf team, but White had his eyes on a different future. “For some reason, I decided I wanted to be a dentist,” White says.

His older brother advised him against playing golf while simultaneously shooting for straight A’s and admission into dental school. “He said, ‘I really think you need to decide what you want to do,’” White says. So White did the math and aimed for the lucrative path—dentistry. Despite having graduated from high school with 27 golf scholarship offers, he enrolled at The University of Texas at Austin, where he worked his way through school. But when he graduated, life took an unexpected turn. He didn’t get accepted to dental school.

With no fallback plan, he went to work at an Austin golf club. He hadn’t played in five years, but after about six months, he started winning chapter tournaments and playing mini-tour events. “You’d play two rounds in San Antonio [then] you and your buddies would pile in a car, go to a laundromat and wash your clothes, and play Thursday and Friday in Houston,” White says. They’d then play two days in Dallas. “I won twice, and … my biggest paycheck was $600.”

Three years after college, White played in a qualifying tournament for the PGA Tour in 1977 in Pinehurst, North Carolina. He fell two shots short of qualifying.
He had spent years chasing his dream, was married, and was thinking of his long-term future. One of his golf sponsors was in financial services. “He said, ‘I think you can make a lot more money working for me than you can doing that,’” White remembers.

Despite having no background in financial services, White started at Prudential Securities. He spent nearly 25 years working his way up from an entry-level position to senior vice president before joining Wells Fargo Private Bank in 2013 as regional director. But golf hasn’t totally disappeared for White. “I was able to kind of weave golf back into my life,” he says, adding that he often golfs for business meetings. “People will know I’m Phil White from Wells Fargo Private Bank, but then they’ll also know Phil White the golfer.”

And he had a track record to prove his talent. After regaining his amateur status in the ’90s, White played in the 1998 and 1999 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships and the 1999 British Amateur Championship.

Phil White says golf taught him at an early age to referee himself. Now it helps him recharge.

Golf also taught White principles that extend well beyond the green. “Golfers referee themselves,” he says. “Regularly in my business career, you have opportunities where you have that moral compass to direct you to do the right thing. To some degree, I learned that on the golf course.”
Now in his 60s, White uses the game as a way to reset. “At the end of a hard week, I’ll go to the club to recharge my batteries a little bit and be reminded of the times when I fell in love with the game,” he says. “When I was in junior high and high school, we used to play ’til dark. That last hour of the day, that sort of dusky sunset period, is still my favorite.”

Sometimes, White still fields questions about whether he finally became a dentist. “I’ve often wondered why I didn’t get into dental school, but the truth is it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says. “In my many years of financial services, there have been many challenges … I don’t believe I would have been as prepared … had I not gone through those earlier challenges.”