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This week’s feel-good story: Monday Q’s have chance for $20-million purse, including a pro who survived near-death experience

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Six years after his brain swelled from viral encephalitis, Brett White is set to make his PGA Tour debut at the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. It’s something he’s dreamed of ever since he took up the game at age 8.

“I’ll probably get up in the morning and go, ‘Holy crap,’ and then walk to the first tee and maybe a little nerves but after that, it’s just golf,” said White, who tees off at 5:15 p.m. ET Thursday due to a frost delay. “Until you get to 16. I don’t think you can ever prepare for 16.”

White, along with Andre Metzger and Dalton Ward were the last three players into the 134-player field after surviving Monday Qualifying.

Metzger, 41, who caddies at nearby Whisper Rock and has been a pizza delivery man to make ends meet, was the low man in the qualifier with a 65 at McCormick Ranch Golf Club. He previously made one Tour start at the 3M Open.

Ward, 31, played at Tri-County Technical College in Pendleton, South Carolina, and qualified for his fourth Tour event with a 66.

White, 29, made eight birdies en route to posting 66 for the third and final spot and celebrated by calling his parents and wife before shifting to finding a place to stay for the week — no easy task with the Super Bowl in town. The former Eastern Michigan golfer is crashing with college friends that live nearby and his wife and dad are flying in as well as a couple of high school buddies.

It’s a feel-good story given that six years ago White was hospitalized for three weeks with viral encephalitis.

“My brain swelled because I couldn’t fight off Mononucleosis for some reason,” he said. “It went and attacked my brain and caused all sorts of problems.”

Fortunately, his golf knowledge remained intact and a month after being released from the hospital he was swinging a golf club with support from a gait belt. His coordination and balance, however, were out of whack.

“I had to re-learn everything from scratch down to left foot forward, right arm swing,” he said.

But nine months later, he competed in a tournament. He has Korn Ferry Tour status this season but failed to get into any of the first three events, including striking out at some of the Monday Qs.

“I think I was 10th and 14th alternate on some of these early tournaments, but I’m in Chile for now,” he said of the Astara Chile Classic, which begins on March 30.

With a long layoff until his next tournament, he determined he might as well go play all the Monday Qs. A spot in the PGA Tour’s WM Phoenix Open means he has a chance to compete for a $20 million purse, where the winner Sunday will cash a check for $3.6 million.

“I would’ve taken any of them,” he said. “But now that I’m here it’s special.”

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