SPOTLIGHT: Grateful Max White gets the pairing he wanted

GETTING OUT OF TROUBLE:  Local PGA competitor Phillip Barbaree Jr. pitches out of a trap at East Ridge Country Club Wednesday as Max White watches. 

By JERRY BYRD JR., Journal Sports

Just before 1 p.m. on Wednesday, there wasn’t anyone at East Ridge Country Club more uncomfortable than Max White. That’s when local media were clipping microphones to the collar of his blue shirt and turning on their cameras. The hand-held microphones were stuck in his face as the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s wish recipient readied to answer questions about his special day.

During his two-year battle with cancer, being uncomfortable is something – unfortunately –  White has grown accustomed to. 

Before the interview session was over, White was fielding questions like a PGA professional, which was ironic because there was one – Phillip Barbaree Jr.– standing just a few feet away, waiting to play a round with White as part of his wish. 

Usually, it’s the other way around. Usually, it’s pros like Barbaree getting the media attention. Not this time. White was the headliner at this Make-A-Wish Tour event.

“It’s great,” the 19-year-old Shreveporter said. “I don’t really have the words for it right now. It’s amazing, and I’m very blessed to be going through this.”

White’s mother didn’t have many words for it either, but there were several tears shed as she watched Yara Elsayed Guest, President and CEO of Make-A-Wish Gulf Coast and Louisiana, present her son with a specially designed St. Jude’s golf bag with White’s patient number etched just under his name, a set of custom fitted Titleist clubs, and other prizes.  

“Well, they (tears) happen a lot, any time,” Laura White said. “It’s a great day, but we have scariness ahead.” 

The scary part for the White family began when Wednesday’s wishes ended. Max White stepped off the 18th green at East Ridge, got in a car with his family, and headed to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

Today, he will have scans which will tell his doctors and loved ones how Max is doing in his fight against cancer.

His battle has been a long par 5, not the easy–nine-iron-off–the–tee par 3 he expected. 

“It’s taken a little longer than planned,” White said. “I thought I would be over it within a few months when I got back. Everything is a process. I’m going to the gym. I work out and everything.”

His workout on Wednesday was 18 holes with Barbaree, a golfer who grew up in his neighborhood and has been a standout at LSU and is moving up the ladder in pro golf. 

“I’ve seen him play a lot,” White said. “We know a lot of the same people. Of course, I never got to meet him myself, but it’s great to (finally) meet him. He is nice. Maybe he can give me some pointers out there.”

Of the Make-A-Wish Foundation surprises, none was bigger than White’s new St. Jude golf bag.

“I was really surprised on the St. Jude bag,” White said. “I wasn’t expecting to get that. They told me I wasn’t getting it. I guess they wanted to keep it a surprise, which I’m very surprised. I love the bag. When I saw it for the first time as a patient I was like ‘I need that bag.’”

He got the bag, and he didn’t even have to lug it around on its first trip around the course. That job went to Barbaree’s caddy, Roy Lang III, who had a caddy bib made for the event with WHITE across the back; Lang gave White a Barbaree autographed bid from PBJ’s first major event. 

While all the prizes from Make-A-Wish were treasured, they paled in comparison to the response from those involved, and their love and support. 

“The stuff, the clubs and everything, are not the real wish,” White said. “Being here today is my real wish.

“Being here and getting to hang out with everyone, getting to talk to people, it’s amazing. That’s my real wish. To be alive.”

Grateful for the support he has received from family, friends, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, it’s the love and care from his parents that have meant the most during this time.

“They were my best friends going through everything,” White said. “They were by my side through thick and thin. They still are. I’m glad they are my parents. They are the best parents in the world. Their support is unbelievable and I’m very, very blessed for everything.”

Photo by CHRISTI LANG