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March 29 2013

6:31 PM

Wheatcroft playing for ... flowers

Steve Wheatcroft's best PGA TOUR finish was a T3 at the 2010 Puerto Rico Open. (Halleran/Getty Images)

By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

HUMBLE, Texas – This time last week, Steve Wheatcroft was beating golf balls on the range with coach Matt Killen looking on. He hadn’t gotten in the Web.com Tour’s Chitimacha Louisiana Open, so why not just hang around and straighten out what’s not working?

This time Monday, he was on the range at Redstone contemplating a three-for-two-spots or four-for-three spot playoff in the Shell Houston Open qualifier. He had posted a morning 5 under and gone to watch Olympus Is Falling, where he spent more time hitting refresh on the PGA TOUR app on his phone than watching the movie. Then he wandered to the range with buddy Paul Haley and buddy Michael Putnam convinced them a playoff was in their collective future.

“Paul and I just both sunk,’’ Wheatcroft said.  “We started hitting balls and getting ready to go. One of the officials came up and said, ‘All right, we got one group left and then you guys are ready, you guys are good.’

“I said, "What's the playoff? Is it 3 for 2? Is it 4 for 3?  Like, what are we doing?"  He just kind of looked at me funny. I turned and looked at Mike and he's laughing at me. So he's got one coming to him.’’

Fast forward to Friday afternoon where Wheatcroft, a self-deprecating, honest Pennsylvania native and Indiana fan, found himself leading the Shell Houston Open at 10 under. No bogeys. A pair of 67s. The same number he shot in the qualifier.

And it only gets better.

Wheatcroft hates qualifiers, but plans to tee it up in another on Monday at the Valero Texas Open. Unless, of course, something big happens for the man with just conditional Web.com status.

Keeping up? It’s not easy. In a little more than six months, he’ll be tying the knot with his finance’ and they’re already on their third florist. In fact, he’s playing this week to pay for them.

“Flowers are expensive,’’ he said. “If golf doesn’t work out, I ought to become a florist.’’

He may not be kidding. The kid who spent a summer living in and working at Oakmont Country Club doesn’t have a resume filled with confidence. His lone win was a 12-shot romp at the 2011 Web.com Mid-Atlantic Championship. He shot 66-60-64-64 and, yes, he had a putt at a 59.

“I had to putt through about a foot of fringe and it kicked it just enough to the right where I knew it was going to miss,’’ he said. “I tapped in for a 60, and (at that point) had an eight-shot lead.’’

Winning there is the highlight to his career, thus far, but hang on. He didn’t hit the ball well on Thursday, but putted well enough for his opening 67 and there’s no reason to think he can’t win this week.

“Who knows?’’ he said. “I could shoot 61 tomorrow, I could shoot 71 tomorrow. I really don’t know. I’m not going to sit around here and think about it too much.

“I’m going to think about the first tee ball on the first tee and we’ll go from there.’’

Friday, he had Runaways by The Killers dancing through his head.
“Can't get it out of my head,’’ he said. “I've been singing it all day.  Yeah, it's good. Kept me loose.”

Wheatcroft  has played just two Web.com events this year, finishing T7 at the Colombia Championship earlier this month and T21 at the Panama Claro Championship. But this? It was a dream.

Ironically, the most memorable shot was the fairway bunker shot at the 12th which hit the Shot Link tower. Awful shot, he said.

He bounced back with two straight birdies and finished at 10 under.

“I knew I was swinging a little better today,’’ he said. “I just needed to play smart out there.”

Now, if he can just do it for two more days.

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