His first year on the Canadian Tour was satisfactory. But Riley Wheeldon would prefer not to return next season.
It’s nothing personal. It’s just that the 20-year-old Comox Valley golfer now has his sights set firmly on earning his PGA card. “That’s been the goal since Day One, and (next) month I have the chance to do it. I’m excited,” he said.
Wheeldon leaves on Oct. 7 for Kannapolis, North Carolina where the first stage of the PGA qualifying school is being held Oct. 18-21. Qualifying is a three-stage process, with the top 25 from each stage advancing. The final stage is set for December. Getting there and earning his PGA card has been Wheeldon’s focus over the past few months, but he has kept his Canadian Tour card just in case his first shot at the PGA comes up short.
Joining the elite echelon of any sport is never easy, but Wheeldon’s determination has already paid off. When his first attempt to earn his Canadian Tour card failed in April this year, he earned it in his second attempt a month later.
“It was a good experience,” Wheeldon said of his first year on the Canadian Tour. “I’ve been wanting to play pro golf since I started, so it was nice to finally have it come around.” Wheeldon played eight Canadian Tour events, with his best finish a tie for seventh at an Aug. 18-21 stop in Seaforth, Ont.
“That was kind of cool. I got to play with Adam Hadwin, who was my teammate at university (NCAA Div. 1 Louiville). He’s the No. 1 ranked player in Canada. I got to play with him on the last day. We have a friendly rivalry and I got the best of him. It was nice.”
Wheeldon has been playing golf since he was six years old. It started as a family outing, but he quickly discovered he had a flair for the game. “It came somewhat easy. Golf can be a frustrating game when you’re struggling. I started to enjoy the fact I was fairly good at it and took it from there,” he said of his competitive drive.
While he played a variety of team sports growing up, Wheeldon likes the fact that golf is an individual sport. “Being individually motivated is more satisfying when you succeed. Obviously you do need help here and there, but you know that it’s you that did it. You’re in control of your own destiny.”
Providing some of that help Wheeldon referred to is his golf coach Brent Morrison. “I’ve been with him since I’ve been playing competitively, so he knows me well.” Morrison used to work at Wheeldon’s home course of Crown Isle before moving his golf academy to Pheasant Glen in Qualicum several years ago.
Also helping Wheeldon since he turned pro has been sponsorship by close family friends and local businesses. “I’ve got a good support group around here who’ve helped me out financially, and I want to thank them,” said Wheeldon, who when not practising his game this summer was working part-time with his dad to help his cash-flow situation.
He notes that honing his game five or six days a week on the course, plus gym time, leaves him little time for much else. And with flight fares, tournament entry fees, hotels, meals and other expenses, life on the pro tour is not cheap. “It all comes out of my own pocket, but those (sponsors) have made it possible.”
Anyone interested in becoming a sponsor can check out www.wheeldongolf.ca for details. Wheeldon was trying to line up more sponsors when he was back home for the summer, but his focus now has switched from greenbacks to greens and fairways.
“My goal for the last few weeks has been getting ready for this qualifying school. It’s probably the biggest event I’ve ever played in.” And the first of what he hopes will be many more on the PGA Tour.