The Golf Coaches Association of America, in cooperation with its long-time corporate partner, the NGA Pro Golf TOUR, will feature a monthly Q&A with former collegians who are currently playing the NGA TOUR. Long considered the premier developmental tour in the United States, thousands of former college players have started their professional careers there. More than 250 NGA TOUR alumni have or continue to play on the PGA TOUR.
This month we speak with Riley Wheeldon. The Canadian-born golfer played collegiately at the University of Louisville and joined the NGA TOUR in 2011. Wheeldon was named BIG EAST Player of the Year while at Louisville. Earlier this year he had his first victory on the NGA TOUR at the Kandy Waters Memorial Classic, and has made 26 of 31 cuts in his career.
Q: You had your first professional victory earlier this year at the Kandy Waters Memorial Classic. What did that victory mean to you?
The victory at the Kandy Waters Memorial event earlier this year meant a lot to me and my career moving forward. I was able to prove to myself and my supporters that I have the capability to win at the professional level and the fact that it was in difficult conditions on a tough golf course only made it that much sweeter. It was a testament to the work I've done on my mental game as well as my short game because those are crucial components to win at any level.
Q: How have professional tournaments you have played in differed from those you played in during college at Louisville?
The biggest difference between collegiate and professional golf, that I've found, is that professional golf forces you to be mature and responsible on and off the course. It's up to you to look after your travel arrangements, tournament preparation, where you eat etc...You can't hide behind teammates or coaches after bad rounds and you need to be able to motivate yourself each and every round otherwise you'll get lapped by the players who care more or look after the little things better than yourself. Professional golf is truly unique because you get out of it what you put in...Nothing is guaranteed and you need to constantly be on top of your business.
Q: What about your time playing in college do you think helped prepare you for playing professional golf?
I was able to play some tour-quality golf courses while at University and was able to measure myself against other players my age that had the same aspirations.
Q: What did you learn in college off the golf course that you think has helped you in the life of a touring professional?
I learned how to live on my own and be an adult.
Q: How has your practice routine changed over the years – from junior golf to college and now as a professional?
The best part about being a professional golfer is that it is your job. You have very few obligations other than to practice, prepare and play to the best of your abilities – and you have sufficient time to do all of the above as well as get adequate rest before events. My practice routine is now tailored around what I've found works best for me. I don't have to follow the guidelines of a team of individuals who may need different circumstances than me in order to be successful. I can take care of my own business – more like I did in junior golf – and as a result I've found my game has improved faster and I'm having more fun doing what I love because it is more comparable to the game I grew up playing as a junior.
Q: Who would you say has had the biggest influence on your golf career?
It’s hard to say that one individual person has had a greater impact than another, so I will have to say my family as a whole has had the greatest impact on my career. Without their emotional and financial support, I wouldn't have been able to play the tournaments I did as a junior and I wouldn't have been able to gain all the experiences along the way that I draw on each and every day at the professional level.
Q: Do you have any superstitions or a pre-shot routine that you have to follow?
I am not superstitious, and my routine, although usually very similar week in and week out, is subject to change as conditions change. However, I will say that I like to have items of sentimental value either in my golf bag or in my pockets at all times so that if I ever need a reminder of where I came from or who is following me, I don't have to look far for a reminder.
Q: What is your favorite club in your bag?
Whatever club's in my hands!
Q: Did you play any other sports growing up? If so do you think they had any influence on your golf game?
I've played nearly every sport competitively at one point or another, most notably hockey, baseball and basketball. I believe that the competitive nature, as well as the overall athleticism and versatility gained by playing other sports, is invaluable for golf.
Q: What is the best thing about playing on the NGA Pro Golf Tour?
The NGA Tour has been extremely beneficial to my progression as a player and a professional. It’s history of producing PGA Tour players and champions produces quality fields nearly year round. Being able to compete against and measure myself against fields like these is invaluable and I owe a lot to the NGA Tour and the opportunities they've given me to showcase and improve upon my abilities. I'd say the best part of playing on the tour is knowing that PGA Tour Champions – Major Champions – have walked the same fairways as myself and been through the same grind. It gives great perspective and is both humbling and motivating.
Q: What advice would you give players coming out of college and starting as professional golfers?
I would say, surround yourself with people who believe in you and want you to succeed. The more positive and comfortable you can be about your situation the better you will play.