CANONSBURG – Steve Wheatcroft felt he was overcoming the demons in his golf game last week with four consecutive sub-par rounds in the Boise Open after missing four straight cuts.
Wheatcroft, the former Washington resident, shot a sparkling 5-under-par 66 in the first round of the Web.com Mylan Classic at Southpointe Golf Club Thursday. He was in a group with five other golfers who were one shot back of the leader, Zack Sucher.
The 35-year-old Wheatcroft, a Trinity High School graduate, burst to 4-under over the first five holes from his start on the No. 10 tee. He made the turn at 3-under after a bogey on the par-4 16th and played the second nine at 2-under, capping the round by sinking a 25-footer on the par-4 ninth.
“Obviously, going 4-under through five was awesome,” said Wheatcroft. “I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Friends and family followed Wheatcroft through the hilly course at Southpointe, even putting up with a light rain that fell for a short time at the start of the tournament.
“I’ve got friends and family out there, and you don’t want to play poorly in front of them,” he said. “I knew I was playing well in Boise. I was starting to see some shots I hadn’t seen in a while. I was hitting high, soft draws and working the driver both ways. I knew I was coming along, and I wanted to get off to a good start, especially in the morning. In the afternoon, the greens will be soft, but the fairways will be running a lot more.”
Wheatcroft sank a 6-footer for birdie on the par-4 10th and strung three more in a row. He curled a 15-foot putt for a birdie on the par-3 12th; chipped to within six feet and made it on the par-5 13th; and sank a 60-footer on the par-3 14th.
“I’ll attack when I think I can attack,” he said. “There are some holes that don’t lend themselves to being attacked. You gotta play safe on some of these holes and attack when you can.”
On the second nine, he birdied No. 1 but gave it back with a three-putt from 70 feet on the huge No. 4 green. On the par-3 fifth, he hit a wedge to within a few feet and put an 8-iron to seven feet on the par-4 sixth. He butchered an approach from the seventh fairway that led to a bogey, but the putt on No. 9 salvaged that error.
“I needed (success at Boise) last week, because I was struggling with my golf swing,” he said of his tie for 17th place that produced a $10,488 check. “My coach (Matt Killen) and I have been working hard on it. I got so out of whack on a four-week stretch. I’m just playing catch-up. Something started to click on the range last week.”
Wheatcroft has a 12:46 p.m. tee time today.
The Mylan Classic is Sucher’s third event of the season. He has struggled, trying to get into events through Monday qualifiers because he lacks status on the Web.com Tour. In the first round, Sucher had four birdies on the front and four on the back.
“I drove it well, but I think I could have done far better,” he said. “Eight birdies are not bad at all. I played this course two years ago. I was struggling with where the golf ball was going.”
Guy Boros, Billy Hurley III, Ben Martin, Whee Kim and Chad Collins were each tied with Wheatcroft at 5-under. Boros, the son of former PGA pro and two-time U.S. Open champion Julius Boros, had six birdies and one bogey on the round.
“This course is in the best condition I’ve ever seen it in,” Boros said. “The scores are going to be pretty low. Five-under is a pretty good score on this course.”
Hurley is unique in that he didn’t turn pro until 2006, two years after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy. He was a lieutenant in the Navy before retiring.
“I played a decent amount of golf in the Navy,” he said. “I had my summers off. I was a recreational golfer at best. I knew when I graduated, I would try my hand at professional golf.”
Hurley navigated the Southpointe course with eight birdies and nine pars. The only disappointment was a bogey on the final hole, No. 9.
“I kept it close (to the pin) and made a lot of putts,” he said. “I played well all the way through.”
Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, shot even-par 71. … Kevin Foley, a 2010 graduate of Penn State, shot a 2-under 69 and sits in a tie for 20th. Foley, who turned pro in 2010, was the winner of the first Web.com event this season in Panama in February. … Michael Putman, the tour’s leading money winner, was 4-over. … Nathan Smith, an amateur from Pittsburgh, also shot 4-over.