Wheeler Stewart, head professional at Belle Haven Country Club in Alexandria, will be on familiar turf when he tees up in the PGA Championship, starting today at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Stewart, 36, a former Maryland Open and Middle Atlantic PGA Champion, has played the demanding PGA National Champions Course "15 or 20 times.

"There's water on 16 of the 18 holes," said Stewart, who led after three rounds of the recent Virginia State Open before a final-round 76 placed him second behind winner Tim White. "It's a great test. It's definitely a position course, where sometimes the driver is not the shot. The heat can't be any worse than here."

Stewart, who was a teammate of 1976 U.S. Open winner Jerry Pate at the University of Alabama, qualified for the 1987 PGA by finishing 11th in last year's national Club Pro Championship. In 1985, after placing eighth in the club pro tournament, Stewart played for the U.S. PGA Cup club pro team that defeated a contingent of club pros from Great Britain and Ireland.

This will be Stewart's third PGA Championship and ninth PGA Tour event. He has played in four Kemper Opens and one Atlanta Classic, and narrowly missed making the cut in the July Anheuser-Busch Classic in Williamsburg.

Stewart said it is difficult for a club pro in a PGA Tour event. "The tour boys are out there every week. You're thrown into that situation. If you're not careful, you play outside of yourself instead of within yourself. It's kind of a one-shot-at-a-time situation.

"You try to just play the game, instead of realizing that you're playing in a major tour event."

Stewart had tour aspirations soon after college, but feels the decision to become a club pro was the right one. "I wanted to be {a tour pro} and reached a point around age 30 where I really had to make a decision. I decided I'd like to see the regular check, instead of worrying about making the cut.

"I'm enjoying myself at Belle Haven. They're a great bunch of folks, giving me an opportunity to play this much. They've been very understanding."

University of Maryland golf coach Fred Funk, recent winner of the Maryland Open, and Bruce Lehnhard of Locust Grove, Va., are also entered in the PGA.

Bob Riley, director of Washington area junior golf, said a full field of 160 juniors is expected for the fifth annual Dewey Ricketts Cup, a three-day stroke play tournament at Brooke Manor in Rockville, Aug. 10-12. Chris Travis of Rehoboth Beach, Del., is not eligible to defend his title because he graduated from high school.

Seven-time Maryland Amateur winner Marty West, veteran Perky Cullinane and Tom Flory are entered in the inaugural Washington Metropolitan Golf Association Mid-Amateur, for golfers 25 and older, Aug. 14-16 at Prince Georges.

The "Neediest Kids" Pro-Am, sponsored by WJLA television's Paul Berry, will be held Aug. 17 at Lakewood in Rockville. A large field of Middle Atlantic PGA pros, plus other celebrities, is expected . . . Sportscaster Tim Brant, Jule Frandonico, Frank Dilodovico, Ron Hurley and Pat Poole shot net 57 to win the Prince Georges Hospitals tournament. The golf and tennis event at Lake Arbor raised $51,000 for emergency equipment.