Shell Houston Open interview: Steve Wheatcroft

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March 29, 2013

PHIL STAMBAUGH: Okay. Steve, back to back 67s. You open qualified on Monday this week to get in, and, boy, two good rounds. Just sort of take us through your day, bogey-free today, and tell us how your week started and how you get to this point.

STEVE WHEATCROFT: Yeah, bogey-free so far. Excited with where I'm at obviously. Got off to a decent start, had a couple -- good shot on 10, good -- decent shot on 11, made a mad bad mistake on 12, hit it in the fairway bunker and hit an awful shot. Actually hit the TV tower behind it. Just lucky I got it up and down. Saved a little momentum, birdied the next two holes. So I was off and running. I knew I was swinging a little better today. I just needed to play smart out there.

PHIL STAMBAUGH: You were talking to the TV guys outside. Maybe take us through the start of your week and your opening qualifier experience.

STEVE WHEATCROFT: I was actually an alternate for the Web.com event in Louisiana. Ended up not getting in. So I stuck around and practiced for the whole week, and I've been working on some things with my swing coach and just wanted to implement those on the range, work on them a little bit.

I did that all last week and came for the Monday qualifier. Knew I was playing really well. I came right out and birdied the first three holes of the qualifier and then just kind of went stale and just couldn't get much out of my round and made two other late birdies and I thought 5-under wasn't going to

get in. Lucky enough it did, so gave me an opportunity.
PHIL STAMBAUGH: All right. We'll just open it up for questions.

Q. Who's your swing coach?
STEVE WHEATCROFT:
Matt Killen.

Q. What did he find, did he find something?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: No. We've just been working non-stop. Last year I had PGA TOUR status last year and worked a little bit in the off-season with a former coach, and I just knew my swing wasn't coming together like I wanted. I didn't want to come out to the PGA TOUR and slap it around again.

My only good finishes were when I putted really well. When I putt well, it's scary good. I've had a couple tournaments where I've had 96 and 98 putts. So I know when I get the putter going, it can be really hot. It was just a matter of I wanted to be a better ball striker so that it would open up more opportunities for me with the putter.

So I started working with Matt last, right after Pebble Beach, I guess. I was just duck-hooking it around the golf courses all over. I said I don't care if I wash this year out, but I need to be a better ball striker. I need to change some things. Yeah, I probably will take a step back this year and it's going to be really hard to keep my hard, but if I get better at the end of the year, so be it.
And we worked throughout the year and I was very, very impressed and I was very happy with the progress we were making. Just a matter of it coming together. We've just been tweaking it non-stop since then, little things here and there. Piece here, piece there he wanted to work on.
I met with him a couple weeks ago in Tampa. I did not get through the Monday qualifier, but we met up actually Tuesday morning before he worked with some of his guys out here. Just worked on a couple other little things, and it's definitely been getting better each week.

Q. Where is Matt based out of?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: Kentucky. I have no idea what city.

Q. How did you get hooked up with him?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: I actually played a lot of practice rounds with Josh Teater back in '07 my first year out here. Little bit in 2010 as well. He's been working with Matt for awhile, and Matt's always been out there and we've been friends and cordial to each other.

I actually had talked to Billy Kratzert, who was the one. We were talking back in Jacksonville one day on the range. I just said, you've been out here a bunch. Who do you like out there, who is good?
He just went over a couple names, and he said Matt Killen out of Kentucky.

Oh, yeah, I didn't think about Matt. He's a good kid. Always liked what he was teaching. Maybe I'll give him a shot. I happened to see him at Pebble and started talking and he said he would be willing to help me out.

Q. How do you spell his last name?
A
K-I-L-L-E-N.

Q. How did you decide to come to this Monday qualifier? I know you kind of caught us up on the week before, and what that life like trying to get into tournaments through Monday qualifiers?
STEVE WHEATCROFT:
I came here because it's only about a three-hour drive from Lafayette. Lot of the Web.com guys come over here. We had an off week anyway. Monday qualifiers are terrible. They're just not fun. Plain and simple. I did it for years. I was on the PGA TOUR in '07, played terribly. I had no status.

So I had to be back to Monday qualifiers and pre-qualifiers the next year. I hate them. I've had success with them, but I just don't like them. I don't like knowing that if you make a bogey when -- on one of your first, four, five holes, you started pressing. I can leave after 9 holes. Lot of that has been going on this year. I know I'm playing well. I knew I wasn't playing 63 well, but I can throw up 68 or 9 or 70 every round where, if you're in a tournament, you're going to play well, but Monday qualifiers it's hard to get through doing that.

It was close and luckily my 5-under this week was good enough. I knew my swing was getting a lot better in the last month or so, just a matter of showing up at the right time, I guess.

Q. How long after your round did you find out you were getting in?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: I finished -- I was one of the morning groups. So I actually came in, I saw there was a 7-under, there was another 5-under and 4-under. I knew there was a big afternoon wave and lot of PGA TOUR players and Web.com players.

So I said I'm going to get out of here. I didn't want to sit here and watch everybody finish and figure out what they're fist-pumping for on 18 (laughter). So I got out of there -- actually, I was by myself. I went to lunch, then went to a movie.

Q. What did you see?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: "Olympus Has Fallen." Figured that would take my mind off things. But I kept refreshing the scores on my phone. Then I went back out there later in the day and just sat in the car for awhile, listened to some tunes and just waiting for the last groups to come in.

I went over and a friend ever mine, Michael Putnam, shot 5 under, he also got in. We actually went to the range just to hit balls, just -- Paul Hayley and I did just in case we had to go to a playoff. And Putnam actually comes running up to the range, here we go, we've got to go to playoff.
Paul and I just both sunk. 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 (laughter). So he's got one coming to him.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about where you are at this point. There's still a lot of golf left out there. Your name is where it is right now. How do you approach the weekend as far as a mindset being there at the top?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: Same as I have through the first 36. I don't have to worry about the money list out here. I don't have to worry about my status out here. If I win, it's great. It's kind of a win or nothing. I just get to go play golf this week. Everybody else can worry their status on the PGA TOUR. Hopefully I can make enough money to get either temporary status out here. Or if I win, that's obviously the goal.

You know, if I'm playing this well, I played terribly yesterday tee to green. I made a lot of putts. If I can -- I'm hitting the ball better, but if I can be on top of the leaderboard at this point, I know I can keep playing well. There's no reason to think I can't. I've never won on the PGA TOUR. I've won on the Web.com Tour, I've won by 12. I know I can keep going forward.

Who knows. I could shoot 61 tomorrow, I could shoot 81 tomorrow. I really don't know. I'm not going to sit 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.

Q. Have you ever lead a PGA tournament after a round?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: Oh God, no. I led at some point in Puerto Rico a few years a ago. It was a goofy round. We played 18 holes, and then I don't think I played again for 48 hours or something. We had to play 27 on Sunday and 27 Monday, and it was just a continuous -- we stayed in the same groups.

I was leading at some point in those rounds. I think I was tied for the lead with three, four to go, but bogeyed 16, bogeyed 18, coming in, finished 3rd there. But the same thing. I hit the ball everywhere that week. I was last in fairways, last in greens, and had a chance to win on the 18th fairway on Sunday.

Q. First in the gallery's heart, maybe.

STEVE WHEATCROFT: Something like that.

Q. Talk about being just relaxing, not a whole lot at stake for you in some sense in terms of you don't have anything to lose. Do you play better when it's like that?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: I don't know. I definitely play better when I'm happy. I know that. If I've got stuff going on with my golf swing or stuff going on at home or just things, I had my mind occupied sometimes, I don't play my best golf and get angry a little easier than normal. This week I've been very relaxed. I don't know why. I found myself today, I got a song stuck in my head this morning. I'm singing it down the fairways, just bouncing around, not thinking about anything.
You know, don't get me wrong. When it's time to hit a shot, it's time to concentrate and focus on what I need to focus on, but I've just been pretty relaxed all week. It's been nice.

Q. What was the song?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: It was "Runaway" by The Killers. Can't get it out of my head. I've been singing it all day. Yeah, it's good. Kept me loose.

Q. Why so happy? Have there been significant changes in your life the last few weeks?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: No, nothing crazy. Just happy to be out here again. It's nice. You play enough -- I've only played two Web.com events, Panama and Columbia, finished 20th and 7th down there. I'm not big on the foreign travel sometimes, and it's nice to get back out here and see the fairways live with people and people cheering and screaming for you. It makes you appreciate how good it is out here.

Q. How many qualifiers have you played in this year?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: Good question. I missed in Tampa. I missed in Lafayette. I think this might have been the third one, then.

Q. What's your status that you're not fully exempt on Web.com, either?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: I have conditional status on the Web.com. I was 151 to 200 on this money list last year. I finished 199 on the money list last year. So I had conditional status, which got me into the first four events. And they go from Panama to Columbia to Chile to Lafayette. I said if I played well in the first two and pretty much secured some status for this year, I was going to skip Chile because I thought I was going to Lafayette. I finished 20th and 7th and decided to take Chile and wish I hadn't now, because I didn't get into Lafayette. I should get into most of the tournaments here coming up, but we'll see.

Q. You've got this kind of self-deprecating approach to your career. Information is tough to find, as I've watching you do this today. Career highlight, was it Puerto Rico where you played?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: No. Web.com event, Nationwide Tour in Maryland, 2011, I shot 66, 60, 65, 64. Won by 12. Just set all kinds of records that week. It was awesome, it was so much fun.

That was definitely the highlight. I had never won on a high level. I won on the mini tours 7, 8 times, but I never won on a bigger tour and to get that win and do it the way I did where -- after the 60, I had a putt at 59 on the second round and I had to putt through about a foot of fringe and it kicked it just enough right where I knew it was going to miss. Tapped in for 60 had an 8-shot lead. I knew that Saturday it was going to be the hardest round of golf I've played, just trying to hold a lead. I actually moved the lead to 9, maybe it was 7 to 8, something like that. I just kept widening the lead. I had a 10-shot lead on the last hole and made eagle.

That was the best moment for me so far golf-wise.

Q. Did you think at that point, okay, my career is ready to take off? Can you ever afford to do that in golf?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: Yes and no. My ball striking was better that week, but again the putter. It was crazy stats. I had like 14 2-putts for the week or something. If it was one the green, I made it. If it was just off, I'd chip it in. It was short game stuff. I wasn't -- it was better that week but not -- didn't control my golf ball quite the way I wanted to and, you know --

Q. Most of the guys would say just the opposite. Basically they're putting determines whether they win or lose. Your case it seems like you can always count on your putter but just trying to get in position to make the putts.

STEVE WHEATCROFT: For the most part. Last year was the first year I really struggled with the putter. Matt and I were working so hard on the swing. I would work on the range four hours a day on the swing. I'd go over and putt for 20 minutes, thinking I'll be fine, I know how to putt. I struggled. I struggled badly last year. Even when I started to hit the ball better, it didn't matter because I couldn't make the putts.

This year I said I wanted to get back to what I did well and hopefully the ball striking comes around, and I actually switched my putting stroke completely. I've been using the same putter for four years. I switched that and then went back to conventional from cross-handed this year.

I got -- just sat there in the off-season and watched enough of the Rory McIlroys and the Tiger Woods and watch all these guys putt, and they all putt the same way. Cross-handed really didn't work for me last year like it had been and let's go back and let's just make -- simplify putting as much as I could.

Q. How long had you been cross-handed?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: 2008 was my first year. What is that, five years? I had been conventional my whole career and then went to cross-handed to start 2008 and been that way ever since until this year.

Q. What's the plan for this afternoon, this evening for you?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: Boy, I have no idea. Movie, maybe (laughter). I like going to a lot of movies. I might go to a movie. I'm going to grab some lunch and just practice for maybe half hour, depending on what this wind is doing. If it's blowing like crazy, I won't practice much. Just work on a couple things out there, tighten up what I need to tighten up and then catch a movie, go home, watch some basketball later, grab a nice dinner. My fiancee is coming in in the morning. I'll pick her up.

Q. That was my next question. Family. You got friends and family coming in for support?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: My fiancee is on a 6:30 flight. She'll be here in the morning. Other than that, I have no idea. My phone has been blowing up in my pocket. So lot of people texting, calling. I don't know if anybody -- I've got a buddy from Dallas that's coming over, but other than that, we'll wait and see.

Q. I saw you tweeted about the officiating in the Syracuse game last night. Talk about --

STEVE WHEATCROFT: Lack of (laughter).

Q. The wrestling match. Talk about your tie-in with Indiana and all that.

STEVE WHEATCROFT: Obviously I went to Indiana. I'm a big Hoosier fan. I loved it there. Indiana, I owe everything to Indiana University. It changed me completely. I was a walk on coming out of high school. Had to beg for a walk on tryout. He told me no six times and then got tired of seeing me. So he finally just said he would give me a shot and cut me after six months.

To go there Indiana just changed my world completely. I never thought in a million years I would play golf for a living. Working at Oakmont back in Pittsburgh, and I thought I was going to go kind of that way through -- try the club pro routine or just stay in the golf business somewhere.

To go to Indiana and I just kept progressing, getting better, year after year after year, and obviously I love IU even -- even when -- I was a fifth-year senior playing and I didn't know what I was going to do afterwards and just played with a lot of these guys that I was beating in college events, asked them what they were going to do afterwards, and they said they going to turn pro. Really? OK. Maybe I should. I've been beating you a little bit but not a world beater. I said maybe I should try this mini tour thing.

So, luckily enough I had enough sponsors that believed in me and gave me a shot and tried the mini tours -- I almost took a job after my first year on the mini tours being a college golf coach. I said, you know what, I want to give it one more year, see if I can get better. And just slowly just got a little better on the mini tours impairment to Web.com and slowly got better out there, and just takes time with me. I'm not one of those guys that just comes in and explodes. I'm kind of a plodder. Takes me a little time to get uncomfortable and I'll get better.

Q. Did you ever reach a point where you thought you might just throw it in and be a club pro?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: About a hundred times. Yes. I almost quit my first year, I was like '01, I almost quit after that year. '06, I remember playing a Web.com event in Oregon and just didn't know what end of the club to hold, shot 78, whatever I shot, and got on a plane.

I said, I think I'm done. I can't do this anymore. I had one more event after that, I played Miami and said I'll go to Q-School. Got all the way through and got my PGA card somehow. I said, I'm in trouble next year unless I figure something out. Yeah, it's an opportunity. I got out there and got my butt kicked all year but learned what I needed to do.

It's a learning process out here. No matter what you do and -- this tournament for me in 2010 was a huge learning experience. I was a second alternate Thursday morning. I didn't think I was going to get in. I had a flight scheduled that afternoon. They said, we might have a tee time for you. You're on the tee in 20 minutes. You're paired with Phil and Adam Scott. Phil who? (Laughter).

Is it a different one? There's only one. Be a little nervous if it's who I think it is. It was great, playing with those guys and top notch players, getting the galleries. Throw me into the fire, let's see what happens. It was awesome. You learn kind of what they do, and you watch some of the best players in the world hit shots and you're like, I can't hit that shot. Got to learn that one. Still can't hit some of them, but got to learn -- you watch them play golf courses and things like that. All this thing, this whole process is a learning experience one way or the other.

Q. Forget going to the movies, maybe they should make a movie about you?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: There's some decent stories in there, I promise you.

Q. You don't even feel like watching the basketball tournament? Have you lost your interest?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: I thought it ended last night when we lost. Yeah. I start pulling for the 15 seed now, right? Yeah, I'll start pulling for Florida Gulf Coast, see what they can do. I'm a sports fanatic. I'll watch all the games and root for whoever I want to root for, but I like the underdogs. If my team is not going to win, let's start pulling for some underdogs. I was one.

Q. Where did you almost take the job?

STEVE WHEATCROFT: Washington and Jefferson College in my home town of Washington, PA. They offered me the head men's and women's coaching job and membership to a country club where I used to be the cart boy at. They play the Mylan there now. Just -- I sat there, can you give me a couple days, and thought about it. And I said I could go home and I could coach and still play in the summer. I said, if you're going to do this, if you're going to do it, you got to do it. Everybody told me that, you can't -- I can't say that right now. You got to go full bore. You can't half it out there. You got to practice all the time because everybody else is.

PHIL STAMBAUGH: Anything else for Steve?
Steve, best of luck. Keep it going.

STEVE WHEATCROFT: Thank you. Appreciate it, guys.

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