Steve Wheatcroft, Class of 2023
By Mike Dudurich • November 2, 2023
Young Steve Wheatcroft was not the kind of golfer who was born with a 9-iron in his hands, practiced for hours daily as soon as he was able to stand and tasted victory in that sport before he knew the difference between a fade and a draw.
"I liked all the sports when I was growing up," he said, "Basketball, baseball, football, those were the things I really liked."
Notice how golf did not make the early list for a member of the West Penn Golf Association's 2023 Hall of Fame class of inductees.
But like every athlete who reaches greatness in his or her chosen pursuit, the path to that level of excellence is never a straight line.
And in Wheatcroft's case, that twisting, turning journey enabled him to be exposed to several sports. But in the end, he was pulled back to golf and its basic extremely frustrating, yet remarkably rewarding career in the game.
His grandparents lived near Indiana Country Club in his early years and that's where he first really became exposed to the game. He said he'd sometimes go over to one of the holes on the edge of the ICC property and chip and putt a bit.
He played in some junior events, had some success, met some people in golf and the next thing you know, he's at Indiana University playing golf.
"I was a walk-on, a tryout guy with really no expectations," he said.
But with a great deal of practice and hard work, he earned a scholarship and honed his skills in anticipation of what would become an 18-year professional career.
Unlike what you sometimes see on television, a career in pro golf does not most times include limousines, luxury hotels, private jets and fine dining. There was plenty of waiting on tables and standing in the hot sun, giving lessons to hackers and slashers, but in the end, he retired having won three professional events and earned nearly $4.4 million dollars.
His professional career, like most other golfers who reached that stage in their development, had many ups and downs, good days and bad, frustrating moments and glorious results.
“The moment I remember most, and this may sound a little weird, is when I got my PGA tour card in 2006,” he said. “I never thought I would be playing on the PGA tour or playing with some of the best players. But when I did that, I shot 67 the final round and knew that I could do this. Holy smokes, I get to play with Tiger, Ernie and Phil every week.”
Check out the records section of Nationwide Tour history and you'll see his name a couple places. In winning the Prince George's County Open in 2011, his margin of victory was a record 12 strokes. In 2014, he recorded his second pro victory, defeating Steven Alker at the Boise Open. He had to work overtime to get it done, playing five extra holes.
As he prepared for his long-term goal of playing on the PGA Tour, Wheatcroft won the Pennsylvania Open in 2003 and the West Penn Open in 2004. He won the Pa. Open on the first playoff hole, defeating fellow Western Pennsylvanian Kevin Shields at Stonewall in Elverson, Pa.
The next year, at Westmoreland Country Club, Wheatcroft was at the top of his game again and won the West Penn Open.
“It’s been 20 years now and to be very honest, I don’t remember a thing about that round,” he laughed. “I’m pretty sure that’s the only time I ever played there. One thing I do remember is how nice it was to say I won a West Penn Golf Association event.”
He remembers finishing before some other contenders that day and waiting nervously as he was congratulated on winning.
“And then you look up and see the names of past winners, Bob Ford, Sean Knapp, Rick Stimmel, to name a few, and know your name will be joining those. It’s kind of a game-changer,” he admitted.
“When I lost my tour card (in 2007), I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” he said. “The grind, the travel and being away from the kids began to wear on me. I had a couple job opportunities, but they fell through. I had conditional status on the Web.com tour and began to play reasonably well. So, I started playing golf again.”
Midway through the year, Wheatcroft was in Florida playing the TPC Sawgrass course when the tide turned again.
“I was leaving on a three-week stretch where I loved the golf courses and the U.S. Open qualifier was included and I thought I was going to do something really special,” Wheatcroft said. “I ended up missing all three cuts and not qualifying for the U.S. Open. That’s when I really soured on it. I played the second half of the season with one foot out the door.”
His career had many ups and downs, good days and bad, frustrating moments and glorious results. And it all came on a stage where millions of hackers can only dream of being. Playing on tour, no matter what level, requires great talent. Stringing together four rounds of sub-par golf is no easy task.
Not bad for someone who had to constantly prove himself just to earn a scholarship.
About the WPGA
Founded in 1899, the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association is the steward of amateur golf in the region. Started by five Member Clubs, the association now has nearly 200 Member Clubs and nearly 37,000 members. The WPGA conducts 14 individual competitions and 10 team events, and administers the WPGA Scholarship Fund and Western Pennsylvania Golf Hall of Fame.