- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2011

Steve Wheatcroft completed his domination of the Melwood Prince George’s County Open with a flourish, making an eagle on the final hole to claim his first tournament win.

He shot 6-under 65 on Sunday to pocket the $108,000 prize, vaulting to second place on the Nationwide Tour money list and leaving a host of broken records in his wake.

Wheatcroft finished at 29-under 255, with a 12-stroke lead over the runners-up. The score and the margin of victory are tour records. His 31 birdies also tied a tournament record for the tour.

But the Coral Springs, Fla., native cannot celebrate quite yet. Wheatcroft will play 36 holes at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville on Monday in a U.S. Open qualifier. He hopes to win a spot in the event for the second consecutive year.

“The U.S. Open is my biggest tournament of the year,” he said. “I got in last year - that was my first taste of it - and got to play at Pebble [Beach], got off to a phenomenal start. I was 2-under through six and had the lead in the Open, and that was a dream come true for me. It obviously went south fast after that, but the Open is my dream tournament.”

The top 25 players on the money list at the end of the season automatically earn a berth in the PGA Tour. With the confidence he has gained from this win, Wheatcroft is confident that he can maintain a spot near the top of that list.

“I know what confidence does to my golf game,” he said. “I’m absolutely thrilled. For some reason, I made some swing changes over the offseason, and my swing has felt so good this year. It honestly feels like I’m cheating, it’s that easy from time to time.

“It helps to relax you because you know you now have the money in the bank, you’re up on the money list and you get to play a little more freely when you’re on the golf course. I’ve got a lot of great golf courses coming up for me the rest of the summer, and I’m excited as can be to get out there.”

Despite the promise of bigger things, Wheatcroft was ecstatic with his win, all the more because his family and friends were there to cheer him on.

“It was awesome - it was absolutely awesome having my family and friends here,” Wheatcroft said. “It was great until [No.] 18, when I hit a good drive and a great 3-wood, and I got up there and I’m enjoying every moment, I’m holding it together great, and I look up on the big screen just to look for scores and I see that the Golf Channel coverage is up there, and my dad’s wiping his eyes with a towel.

“I started choking up and tearing up and I said, ‘Come on, you’ve got to hold it together for at least one more putt.’ It’s very special, getting to see things like that.”

Rather than break the tour record for birdies, Wheatcroft chose to play the last hole aggressively, making a difficult putt for the eagle.

“I wanted to go out with a bang,” he said. “It was a relatively tough putt. It was about 12 to 14 inches outside left edge and up over a ridge. It’s usually not my specialty, but I just said, ‘Let’s give this one a chance to go.’ I hit a great putt, and I wasn’t sure if it was going to hold on or not.

“I almost started walking a little too early. Luckily it caught the bottom lip and curled back under for me.”

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