Riley Wheeldon's bounce-back season
September 12, 2018
By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.COM
- Riley Wheeldon finished second on the Order of Merit in 2013. (Chuck Russell/Mackenzie Tour)
After missing the season finale the last two years, Riley Wheeldon has come into the final week of the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada season feeling grateful for the opportunity.
Wheeldon, who finished second on the Order of Merit in 2013, earning Web.com Tour status in the process, has struggled to regain that form. He’s been battling a nagging hip injury that will eventually require surgery.
But, after finishing tied for 10th at the opening tournament of the year and with a near-win in Thunder Bay, Wheeldon, now 27, is feeling better than ever as he prepares to tee it up at the Freedom 55 Financial Championship.
“I’m excited to be in this field, which is kind of a new feeling for me, since I’ve been out here for so long now,” he says.
Wheeldon is just $7,500 behind Michael Gligic for the Canadian Player of the Year honour – and the $25,000 bonus. He says winning the Dan Halldorson Trophy was indeed a goal of his at the beginning of the year. He needs a good week in London, he admits, to pass Gligic, but to be considered for the honour is “a bonus.”
“I had to be a little more conscious of where I was at going into this year and not expect too much out of myself considering how poorly I had played the previous two years,” he admits. “But it’s a positive for where I was at the start of the year … I’m just happy to have a chance, really.“
The native of Comox, B.C., made only four cuts on the Mackenzie Tour in 2016 and finished 67th on the money list – thanks in large part to a tie for fourth at The Players Cup.
He finished sixth at Q-School in 2017 but couldn’t convert that success into good results during the season, finishing 101st on the money list. He had to return to Q-School again, but played well.
His play in 2018 has him 18th on the money list heading into this week as he’s set to tee it up at the limited-field season finale for the first time since 2015, and he says the tie for 10th at the Freedom 55 Financial Open did wonders for his confidence.
“Considering how I started the last two seasons and how I was just chasing all year, looking back on it now it was definitely nice to get that little weight off my shoulders early and get a good solid finish,” he says.
“I regained my belief that I had what it took to contend at this level. It was two years in a row of losing my status was an eye-opener for how quickly things can change and how much work I still needed to do.”
Fast forward to mid-July and Sunday at the Staal Foundation Open presented by Tbaytel. Wheeldon finished at 21 under par, and says he walked off 18 thinking “at worst” he was going to be in a playoff. Golf, however, is a little more unpredictable.
Ben Griffin birdied his final three holes and nipped Wheeldon by one.
Wheeldon says he didn’t hang his head after that, with what happened. He simply got beat by someone who had a great finish. He was pleased with how he executed down the stretch, and says the last 27 holes in Thunder Bay (he was 14 under par) were as good as he’s ever played in his life.
“It was exactly what I was looking for the last three years,” he says. “It was nice to know it was still in there somewhere.”
Wheeldon admits he is always “day-to-day” in terms of managing his pain in his hip. The official diagnosis is a torn labrum and a bone spur on the femoral cap (“All that medical jargon,” Wheeldon says with a laugh) and it was finally confirmed by a doctor in early 2014 after the pain became too much.
He says it seizes up on long flights or drives, so he has to make sure to monitor his movement. He also has to monitor how many balls he hits or how much golf he actually plays, while staying as loose as possible before each round.
The pain, he says, is manageable. He wakes up with aches and says he’s lost some speed and yardage off the tee, but it’s “not agonizing.”
He says the plan is to have surgery, which is something he’s been saying for a few years now. But without the security of a full Tour card he hasn’t been able to take a month off to get it done and get the right recovery he’ll need.
“I’m still waiting for the time and place to do it, but I do plan on getting it done eventually,” he says. “I know I’m not going to be 100 percent unless I do.”
For now, Wheeldon continues to grind it out. He knows he has good golf inside him somewhere. And as far as this week is concerned, he says he “loves” Highland Country Club. An old-style Stanley Thompson design, the layout suits him, he says. He’s eager to get started, and to have the opportunity this week to do just that is an accomplishment in itself.
“I definitely have a new sense of appreciation for what it takes to get into this field,” he says. “I’m happy to be here, and I’m excited to play.”