High-flying champ Wheatley
Bradford Golf Club member Richard Wheatley felt as ‘at home’ as could possibly be, coming down the home stretch of the Yorkshire Amateur Championship at Fulford.
With one of the county’s plethora of young guns – Ganton’s Jack Northgraves – sitting in the clubhouse on an impressive -4, 42-year-old Wheatley knew he was chasing the game coming down Fulford’s home stretch. And that didn’t faze him whatsoever.
Speaking the day after his victory, he admitted: “The first time I looked at the low scoring was back over the [A64] road at the 14th. But I have birdied it in from there before, so I knew I could do that.”
Indeed Wheatley, who set the Bingley St Ives course record the day before his 20th birthday, and turned professional in 2000, had great memories to rely on.
“I went to Fulford to win the MacKenzie Salver in 2016, so I have more notes about that course than anywhere. It’s all in my little blue book. I fancied myself. The idea was just to keep the ball in play and go from there.”
With two to play he was still one back of Northgraves.
“On the 17th, I took a 6-iron off the tee, then hit a wedge to about 8-inches. So I needed a birdie on the [par 5] last, but I was expecting a play-off. Off the tee I had 210 yards left, then put a soft 6-iron pin-high leaving 15-feet for eagle.”
Pause for deep breath.
“So I ran the putt 5-feet past. I thought, ‘here we go’. Anyway, it dropped and I’d won. I had to go to the far end of the putting green to pull myself together. It was a bit emotional.”
Once victory had sunk in – which it still hadn’t the following day – Wheatley had a problem to solve. The airline captain was due to be flying holidaymakers on a Jet2 holiday the weekend he was due to represent Yorkshire in the County Champions of Champions event at Woodhall Spa.
In the event he got the weekend off and shot two solid rounds to finish mid-table on level par. The Yorkshire Amateur win however was far from a surprise given his form over the past year or so.
He won the Bradford Open at Northcliffe last year and defended it this year at his old club Bingley St Ives.
“I have had a good year,” he said. “I won the Hawksworth Trophy again and the St Ives Salver again. I don’t get a lot of time to practice, because of work, but Andy [head pro Andrew Wilson] at Bradford GC lets me use the studio and I just work on a few things.”
Wheatley gave up the pro game in 2008 and spent three years training to be a pilot, working for Ryanair before joining Jet2. He said he switched to Bradford because of the practice facilities and a few years back concentrated on a change to his swing.
“Because I’m tall I just wanted to try work on my lower body. Now I hammer home every time that what I want to play is a fade. I’ve got so that I can rely on it.”
It certainly stood up to the test at Fulford in mid-August.
Wheatley’s best-of-the-day closing 67 was matched only by Adam Walker and Tom North in the 1st round.
He went into the final round a shot behind Jack Northgraves and Hessle’s Aaron Brettell, who had been a model of consistency with rounds of 73, 74 and 70 to sit on level par.
Garforth’s Jake Wallis finished a shot behind Brettell on +1, while three shots further back were Jack Whaley, Olly Smith and Ben Brown, with the trio of Charlie Daughtrey, Adam Walker and Richard Fawcett one stroke behind them.
Northgraves won the U18 award, The Alvin Trophy, and also the Alan Sowden Salver as runner-up. The Yorkshire Inter-District Plate award went to Bradford for the first time – Oliver Tasker (South Bradford) backing up Wheatley’s scores over the first 36 holes.