Oct. 7, 2010
By Jon Cooper
It’s a fine line between confident and cocky.
Sometimes that line gets blurred for you, especially when you’re 18 years old and beating people as much as four years your senior. That’s the fine line that Georgia Tech golf freshman Richard Werenski walks.
Fortunately, he’s aware of that tenuous line, although there was a point where he nearly hurt himself over-compensating so as to not to cross it.
“I don’t like to be really cocky or full of myself. I was kind of around that growing up and playing in junior tournaments,” said the 18-year-old native of South Hadley, Mass. “There were certain kids who nobody liked because of their attitudes. I told myself, ‘I’ll never be like that.’ So I guess I kind of went the other way. I didn’t really believe in myself as much as I should. I kind of realized that in the past year. You can’t be way too confident but you’ve got to believe in yourself. You’ve just got to find the balance.”
Coming from a golf family — his mother and father both played collegiately, while his younger brother, Mickey, is doing so in high school — helped Richy find that balance.
That base also has contributed to the poise and maturity he’ showed before ever hitting the links for Tech.
After graduating from Heritage Academy High School in Hilton Head, S.C. (he didn’t play golf with them) while playing at the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy (where Mickey currently plays), Richy selected Georgia Tech over offers from Vanderbilt, Duke, Virginia, Kentucky and UNLV amongst others.
“I really liked it, I liked the guys on the team, I liked what Coach [Heppler] had to say and it just kind of clicked,” he said. “A lot of college coaches may say their program is the best, but they don’t have that many guys out on the PGA Tour.
“It just goes to show me that if I listen to Coach, that is going to give me the best shot at being on the PGA Tour,” he added. “They did it. They conquered the harder school. I feel like I’m in the right place and I still have the best chance to be on the Tour.”
Once he chose Georgia Tech, Werenski made another smart decision, enrolling in January but “grey shirting” during the spring, while he got his bearings academically. He was the first Heppler recruit to do so.
“It was probably the best thing I’ve done in my golf career, just because the academic part of things was such a big change for me,” said Werenski, a Management major. “If I was going to come in and try to play right away and do school and I wasn’t used to it and do the workouts on top of that, it would have been a lot to handle. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to play as well as I’m playing right now without that extra semester to get acclimated.”
“It’s an awful difficult thing to do, to come into a good golf program and play right away,” said Heppler. “There’s so much to do managing golf and college. It’s a little bit different than playing in the summer time, where you’re just doing one thing. So the idea was to have him come in early and learn how to do some school and some golf at the same time. I’m sure it was difficult for him at times, since he was studying harder than he’d ever studied and tried to do it all together.”
Werenski succeeded in getting his act together academically and is now working hard to do the same on the golf course.
He’s had a much easier time adapting to playing as a freshman, as he’s used to being the youngest player in his foursome. Not that that’s an excuse for not winning.
“I’ve kind of always surrounded myself with people older than me,” he said. “I’ll play a competition with people older than me and sometimes, if I don’t do as well as I want to, I don’t realize that these guys who beat me are more experienced. I feel like I should be as good at 18 as they are at 21, 22.”
That feeling won’t be going away after this summer’s U.S. Amateurs, when Werenski not only qualified but reached the round of 32 in match play.
His final day of qualifying is something he’ll remember for a long time.
“I shot 31 on the back nine to qualify. So I played the last 14 holes six-under or something like that,” he recalled. “That kind of opened my eyes and gave me a little more confidence. Once I got to the actual tournament out in Washington, it was just a beautiful course, like nothing I’d ever seen. I took my practice rounds and just said I was going to have fun. The hardest part is getting there because the qualifiers are so tough. I played the stroke play and played my game, did what I usually do. It was just a good week for me.”
There will be more good weeks to come, starting, he hopes, with this weekend at the Brickyard Intercollegiate, being held at the Brickyard at Riverside in Macon.
He is looking to improve his consistency following a superb showing in his collegiate opener at the Carpet Capital Collegiate, when he shot rounds of 74, 73 and 73 for a plus-4, then struggling at the Ping/Golfweek Preview, shooting a 15 over, with rounds of 75, 70 and 86.
“The most important thing is to be able to shoot consistently low scores,” Werenski said. “That’s what’s going to win tournaments, your team is going to count on you to shoot a low score, something they can take.
“I’m pretty happy with how things have gone so far,” he added. “I’ve played a couple of good rounds but have had some bad ones as well. I’m still trying to knock the bad ones out of the equation. I’ve got a lot of work to do but it’s been a good experience so far.”