Sibling bonds in golf have gained momentum this year. Nelly and Jessica Korda have combined for four LPGA Tour wins in 2021. Minjee Lee won the Evian Championship two weeks after her brother Min Woo Lee had captured the Scottish Open. And Curtis Thompson earned his PGA Tour card and finished tied for seventh in last week’s Butterfield Bermuda Championship, although he has a long way to go to match the career of his sister, Lexi, an 11-time LPGA Tour winner.
These are the high-profile golf siblings you probably already know about, but there is another that could be the most inspiring pair of the year.
Sarah and Brett White are on the precipice of the golfing dreams they’ve followed since the two were kids hitting balls into a net down in the basement of their Grand Rapids, Michigan, home.
This week, Brett is competing in the final stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School with the opportunity to gain guaranteed starts if he earns a top-40 finish. At worst, he has already locked up conditional status.
Less than a month from now, Sarah will be competing at LPGA Q-Series, with Brett likely caddying for her, as she needs a top-40 finish to at least get conditional LPGA Tour status. The worst-case scenario is that she returns to full-time privileges on the Symetra Tour.
That alone is noteworthy, but it goes much deeper. Back in the summer of 2017, Brett went through a health scare that had him wondering if he would survive. He had to re-learn how to walk, talk and, eventually, swing a golf club.
The bizarre onset of major health issues came and went like a tornado.
Pro golf had treated Brett relatively well after he graduated from Eastern Michigan in 2016. He placed third in PGA Tour Latinoamérica Q-School to gain full status, which is a considerable accomplishment for most players in their first year out of school. At the time, that circuit’s season ran during the spring, broke for the summer and continued into the fall. After Brett made eight starts in the spring, he took on a schedule of state opens and other random pro events.
But by the end of July, something wasn’t right. He played the New Hampshire State Open and, although he nearly won, he was sweating at night and felt downright miserable. When he went to the Rhode Island State Open, Brett was playing in the morning and then sleeping from 4 p.m. until the following morning. He barely got through the tournament.
The culprit, he thought, was found when he took a mono test that came back positive. He drove back home to Michigan assuming his illness would slowly fade away, but it only got worse. His throat swelled up and he had a difficult time doing anything but sleeping.
His speech was slurred, his breathing was labored, his walking gait was noticeably off to the point where he needed a walker to help him and his memory was deteriorating to where he would sometimes ask the same question multiple times. His equilibrium had hit a state of total dysfunction.
In early August, he had no choice but to go to the emergency room.
“I just remember the feeling of being totally down,” Brett said. “Everything was so hard to do. Even walking up the stairs to refill a water bottle, you’re grabbing onto the railing just trying to get yourself up the stairs. It was a really weird time.”
“It was a humbling experience. … At first, everything was in question. Was I going to make it? And then once it got under control, I wanted to be able to walk and run around with my future kids. Perspective and goals change.” – Brett White
Despite test after test, doctors initially had a difficult time understanding what was happening. Positive mono tests are sometimes a sign that another virus is in play, and soon it was discovered that Brett had viral encephalitis causing his brain to swell.
A steady dose of steroids and antibiotics reduced the swelling, and Brett went to a rehab facility five days after first being admitted to the hospital. Among his rehab tasks were three hours of physical therapy, one hour of speech therapy and one hour of occupational therapy each day.
After slow but steady improvement, he was released from the hospital in September.
“You realize once you’re there, not everyone gets to walk out of the hospital,” Brett said. “It was a humbling experience. … At first, everything was in question. Was I going to make it? And then once it got under control, I wanted to be able to walk and run around with my future kids. Perspective and goals change.”
Through it all, Brett desperately wanted to play golf. During rehab, the southpaw re-learned how to swing a golf club by having a therapist hold him by a belt while he swung.
A week after being released from the hospital, he was hitting range balls. His game had completely abandoned him, but he was just thankful to have the opportunity to play again.
“I didn’t want my career to end that way,” Brett said. “It didn’t sit right with me. I wanted to go out swinging.”
As the winter approached, Brett found himself going stir-crazy and decided to spend a few months in Florida so he could work on his game. It took about nine months before he played his first tournament since the illness, but he slowly recovered his skills.
That summer of 2018, he moved down to Houston with his fiancée. That’s where a vital piece of his development came as he found success on the All Pro Tour, a mini tour in the south central portion of the U.S. that has expensive tournament fees but tremendous payouts relative to other mini tours. Brett placed second in his first event and would go on to play a couple dozen or so tournaments there. Last fall, he won the Michigan Open in his home state, a tournament he once competed in as an amateur.
Three years and a lot of hard work later, Brett, now 28 years old, earned his way into Korn Ferry Tour Q-School and has gone on a superb run. He finished 10th in First Stage and fourth in Second Stage, setting up an opportunity to play the most meaningful golf of his life this week.
This all coincides with Sarah White’s development into a Symetra Tour winner and possibly an LPGA Tour player. Brett, often a caddie for his 24-year-old sister, has played an integral role in helping her get to this point.
“We were close before, but him getting sick really put things into perspective of how important family is. Golf is a huge part of our lives, but it’s not the most important part.” – Sarah White
They both grew up playing hockey in the winter and golf in the summer. Sarah was the starting goalie on the boys team at East Kentwood High School – in a fifth grade scrapbook, she wrote that she wanted to play in both the NHL and on the LPGA Tour.
That first goal may be a little ambitious, but the second is well within reach.
Both Sarah and Brett were raw golf talents growing up and have helped each other learn the finer details of the game over time. Neither played much high-level amateur golf. Sarah, who went to Western Michigan before transferring to Texas State, was a sophomore in college trying to find her way when Brett got sick.
“He’s my biggest mentor,” Sarah said. “What was going to happen to him? It seemed like a blur. I was just in shock. It was just a scary time.”
When Brett did get better, he came to one of his sister’s college events that fall. He walked a couple of holes and was left so tired that he needed to take a nap in the car.
But it wasn’t just him showing up that proved critically important in pushing Sarah forward. Brett knows Sarah’s game better than anyone else, and he put that knowledge to use once he got healthier and could caddie for her. Sometimes that means being able to read a flier lie and telling her to hit a gap wedge instead of a pitching wedge. And sometimes that means telling her to take a deep breath if she is too excited or nervous.
“I take on a big-brother role in giving advice, explaining some of the mistakes that I’ve made in my career,” Brett said. “But to see her having success, especially when I’ve caddied for her, it’s been really cool.”
Sarah won her first Symetra Tour event in August of 2020 but had some struggles after that. After missing her first six cuts of this year, she sat down on a chipping green in tears and called her brother for advice.
“You can’t talk about that with a lot of people,” Sarah said. “It’s such a personal thing.”
With Brett having his own blossoming pro career, he may not get to caddie all that often for his younger sister. Still, their bond is one of the more special ones you will find in the game. Sometimes siblings compete against each other and don’t have a close relationship off the course.
In this case, what they have gone through with Brett’s illness has brought the Whites closer together than ever.
“We were close before, but him getting sick really put things into perspective of how important family is,” Sarah said. “Golf is a huge part of our lives, but it’s not the most important part. It puts the love that we have for each other way, way higher than any shot or score.”
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