Peyton White was nervous. It was his first day on his new job, and he had a lot of uncertainties ahead. It started with a tee shot on the first hole, a 392-yard par 4, at El Reunion Golf Resort in Antigua, Guatemala, in March.
White, who graduated from Ohio University in 2017 after four seasons with the men’s golf team, was beginning his career on the PGA Latin America Tour. For the next 13 weeks, the 22-year-old would travel to six different countries in and around South America to play golf for a living.
Nervousness was nothing new to White. The Huntersville, North Carolina, native had to fight off nerves en route to becoming his alma mater’s single-season record holder with an average of about 72 strokes per round in 2017, when he won two events.
But these nerves were tougher to manage. Instead of only having to focus on adjusting to a new course each week like a college golfer, White had to adjust to a new lifestyle.
“Dude, you're traveling to a country that you've never been to with a lot of people you don't know on a tour that you've never played on in the biggest tournament that you've played in,” White said in a phone call. “But that's what we play for, man. It's sick.”
White shot a 72, even-par, on his first 18 holes of professional golf, and he followed it up with a 73 the next day.
The two scores may have been enough to place him in the upper ranks of a college event one year ago.
Instead, he missed the cut by four strokes. His first professional tournament was over. Players who miss the cut in the PGA receive little to no share of the tournament’s purse, which is typically about $175,000 per tournament in the Latin America Tour.
White didn’t make his first cut until his third event, the 87 Abierto OSDE del Centro in Córdoba, Argentina, in April. After four rounds, he tied for 58th place at 5-over par and left Córdoba $669.38 richer than when he arrived.
In addition to making his first cut and adding some cash to his bank account, White accomplished something he had never done in his eight years of playing the sport.
He notched his first-ever hole-in-one.
White, who started playing golf in 2010, remembers even the most minuscule details about his first ace.
There were gusty winds blowing inward from Córdoba Golf Club’s 10th hole, which he recalled was about 142 yards away, sloped downhill and had a bunker in front of the pin’s placement on the right side of the green. White pulled out his 9-iron — he usually used the club for targets around 160 yards away, but he hoped the strong winds would pull the ball back.
He took his shot. The ball landed over the bunker, rolled toward the hole and disappeared.
White remembered what happened before and during the shot, but what about after?
“I don't know what happened afterwards because I just freaked out,” he said. “It was my first one, like ever, and the biggest golfer's nightmare is dying without a hole in one. I was going berserk. And some of my buddies were there on the tee as well, so we just went nuts.”
White said his limbs were still shaking from disbelief and excitement as he played his next hole, but he was at ease. It wasn’t until then that he finally felt settled in and comfortable among his new surroundings, which included a different country, city and environment each week.
“I felt like I belonged,” White said. “When you're under pressure, and you're not fully trusting what you're doing, then it kind of magnifies that, and you're on a tour with 144 of the best players in the world. These guys are no joke, and it's not a matter of making cuts anymore. You have to play well to make the cut. The moment you don't feel like you belong, then you don't belong."
Before the tour, White previously visited parts of the Caribbean and South America, but only for vacation.
This time, it obviously wasn’t a vacation, but some people looking for a vacation probably wouldn’t mind some of the locations White and other players on the tour stayed.
White said he stayed at a villa on the golf course in Guatemala that had a hot tub and three bedrooms. When White traveled to a Westin resort in Costa Rica for a tour event in May, his family, best friend and girlfriend visited as well. A night's stay at the resort currently costs upward of around $350, according to its booking website. As a tour member, White stayed for free.
The easy living accommodations made it easy for White to adjust to life off the course. He mainly lived with Otto Black and Jack McBride, two Americans who played in college for Toledo and NC State, respectively and Harrison Endycott from Australia.
Speaking English worked well among White’s inner circle of people he talked with daily on the tour. Outside of White’s tour mates, however, English wasn’t nearly as effective.
So, White is now partially fluent in Spanish. He said he quickly picked up the language after being immersed in the culture and traveling to some areas where English was rarely, if ever, used.
White found that the textbook Spanish students in the U.S. typically learn is “useless,” and the best way to learn the language is through conversing in a true Spanish environment.
White said that in Mexico, the standard Spanish greeting for asking someone how they’re doing, “Hola, ¿cómo estás?,” is not pronounced like how it may sound to someone reading the phrase for the first time.
“You say that, and they don't know what you're saying. Because that's like, I don't know,” White said. He laughed as he tried to pronounce the greeting how he remembered hearing it — with more speed.
“You say ‘Holacómoestás?' like really, really quickly,” he said.
White was able to adjust to most of the lifestyles that come with living in South America. He is currently back home in the U.S. preparing for the second half of the 2018 PGA Latin America season, which begins in September. Besides looking to improve his score, there’s one other thing White wants to increase before he returns to South America.
White said he lost 17 pounds after the first leg of the tour. How? Well, White was trying to eat healthy and keep his body in form, but he was cautioned against using the tap water in South America. The water issues limited what kind of food he was able to eat, and he only ate vegetables if they were grilled.
When White needed water, he only used plastic water bottles.
“I've been working on putting (the weight) back on. It's different,” White said. “You can't drink tap water, you can't brush your teeth with it. Nothing like that."
But White can’t wait to return to work. The schedule for the tour’s second half includes events in Chile, Peru and two events in Brazil. He's even playing for a Web.com Tour Q School Entry this weekend in the Howard Memorial Classic, a GPro Tour event.
No matter what country he’s in, however, White is just going to continue soaking it all in. He’s three years removed from being a teenager, and his job is spending nine hours at a golf course nearly every day. Not many golfers would complain about that.
“Getting to do what you love, like truly, truly love, is one of the better things out there,” he said. “I don't know how many people do what they truly love, so I'm blessed to be able to do it. It is a job, but it's the best one out there for me right now."