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There are a couple of advantages for Steve Wheatcroft this weekend atthe Hotel Fitness Championship.
The first is a simple one that comes from the head coverings he uses.As an Indiana University graduate, Wheatcroft still adorns his bag with Hoosier symbols. In Fort Wayne, those logos have plenty of meaning for spectators as he walks and plays the course.
“Anytime someone sees the IU on the bag or a few people know the name still from the area, I get good support,” Wheatcroft said. “It's always nice having that Indiana connection and being able to come back here.”
While that advantage may be small, the other one for Wheatcroft has quite a bit more importance for not just this weekend but also the next year of his life. With the Hotel Fitness Championship kicking off the four day event Web.com Tour Finals Thursday afternoon at Sycamore Hills, Wheatcroft doesn't have to worry about still earning his tour card.
Wheatcroft finished in the top 25 of money earners during the Web.com's regular season, earning him his PGA Tour card. Another 25 cards are up for grabs for the top 25 earners in the Tour Finals,which is open to 130 players that rank in the top 75 of the Web.com Tour or were between 126-200 in the FedEx Cup standings.
“Obviously, I'm thrilled,” Wheatcroft said. “I was nervous and stressed out every week and now I've gone to complete relaxation mode compared to last year here for the playoff events when I needed to play well to get a PGA Tour card. It's nice to get it out of the way.”
With his experience last year, Wheatcroft understands how challenging it can be mentally to play with a Tour card on the line. This puts extra importance on this weekend's event at Sycamore Hills to come out and start strong for many golfers.
“It's definitely a little nerve-wracking,” Wheatcroft said. “It's nice it's not just one event, but four events, but you still want to come out and stockpile some money, make as much as you can and get in the mindset to finish as high as you can early on or it makes the third and fourth events definitely stressful.”
Along with the mental hurdles of playing to make the tour comes with the pressure of an event loaded with talent. This year's Hotel Fitness Championship includes last year's champion and 2008 Master's winner Trevor Immelman, 2003 British Open Champion Ben Curtis, 2009 PGA Championship winner Y.E. Yang, former Master's and PGA Championship runner-up Chad Campbell and many more players who have been on the PGATour.
“There are some great players and it's going to be some competitive golf,” Wheatcroft said. “Especially starting out here at Sycamore Hills, it's a championship style golf course and I think the field is going to be great, so the spectators are going to be very impressed with the golf they see.”
The course has also survived the torrential rainfall from this past weekend. Wheatcroft said during his first practice round yesterday that he couldn't even tell the area was hit with such a downfall.The changes and redesigns to the course also provide Wheatcroft and all the competitors with some new challenges to face this weekend.
“The changes I've seen to the front side lengthen the golf course alittle bit with bunkers in the fairways and make you play shorter,” Wheatcroft said. “They've done a great job and I've heard nothing but great reviews.”
Wheatcroft just hopes these changes don't hamper the advantages he hasas he tees off at 8:03 a.m. Thursday morning. Wheatcroft is part of the fourth pairing to tee off from the first hole Thursday, and Immelman tees off with the first group at 7:30 a.m.
The Hotel Fitness Championship runs Thursday through Sunday, with final-round tee times starting at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
Here is the pertinent information that area golf fans that want to watch the event need to know before heading out to Sycamore Hills Golf Course:
Purse: $1 million total; $180,00 to champion
Today: Mad Anthony's Pro-Am tee times 7:30-9:30 a.m. and 12:30-2:30 p.m.
Thursday: Round 1 tee times 7:30-9:30 a.m. and 12:30-2:30 p.m.
Friday: Round 2 tee times 7:30-9:30 a.m. and 12:30-2:30 p.m.
Saturday: Round 3 tee times 8-10 a.m.
Sunday: Final-round tee times 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
TV: Golf Channel (Thursday 3-6 p.m.; Friday 12:30-2:30 p.m.; Saturday 12:30-3 p.m.; Sunday 5-7 p.m.)
Parking: Free at 11430 Covington Road
Tickets: Available online at www.hotelfitnesschampionship.com