Steve Wheatcroft shares lead after shooting 65, gushes over Quail’s course, local eateries

Charlotte might not know a lot about Steve Wheatcroft, but the Pennsylvania native knows a lot about Charlotte.

Wheatcroft says the Wells Fargo Championship is one of his favorite tournaments of the year -- mainly because of his affinity for the Quail Hollow Club and the restaurant choices in SouthPark.

"It's a great place," Wheatcroft said. "We love it here."

If Wheatcroft continues to play like he did Thursday, he'll like it a lot more by the end of the weekend.

Wheatcroft fired a 7-under-par 65 -- a round that included two eagles and two bogeys -- to share the first round lead with Andrew Loupe.

Wheatcroft, 38, is looking for his first career victory. He's been on and off the PGA Tour since 2007, spending time on the Tour when he would lose his playing card.

Wheatcroft would like to add his name to the list of older, first-time winners on tour this year.

"It's always nice to see other guys my age or close to my scenarios playing well or winning. Obviously it hasn't been the best year for me," he said. "But obviously at the same time it definitely gives you hope that any week can be your week."

Wheatcroft's best finish this season was a tie for 36th last week at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans. He's never finished in the top 35 in four previous Wells Fargo tournaments.

But he keeps coming back.

"It has that classic look and feel to it," Wheatcroft said of Quail Hollow.

Wheatcroft says Quail's manicured fairways and its sloped and fast greens remind him of Oakmont Country Club in Pittsburgh, near Wheatcroft's hometown of Indiana in western Pennsylvania .

Oakmont is hosting the U.S. Open this summer, and Wheatcroft will try to play his way in during a qualifier at Woodmont in Rockville, Md.

"It'd be a lot of fun. It'd be a dream come true for me. I've been dying to get back there for an Open," said Wheatcroft, who played in the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. "It's my No. 1 goal this year is to get there."

Winning here this weekend likely would still not boost Wheatcroft high enough in the world rankings to qualify him for the U.S. Open. But it'd be a start.

"If I could win it could open the doors," he said. "Maybe I could get a couple other high finishes before the deadline. You never know."

Despite his 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame, Wheatcroft is not an exceptionally long hitter. But he played Quail Hollow's four par-5s on Thursday at 6 under, including his bogeys at Nos. 5 and 10. He hit a 270-yard 3-wood to within 6 feet of the cup at 10 to start his back nine with a bang.

"Steve was tough today. Wheaty played great," said co-leader Loupe, who will play in Wheatcroft's group again Friday. "I really just felt like I was trying to keep up the whole time."

Most years in Charlotte Wheatcroft follows his round with a stop at Del Frisco's or the Cowfish for dinner. But he and his wife Sarah brought their 20-month-old son with them this year.

So ... takeout.

"We don't get out to the restaurants like we used to,” he said. “We've been cooking a little bit in the house. We've been ordering in. In fact I'm probably getting takeout tonight from Cowfish on the way home."

Burgushi never tasted so good.