Aug. 2, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
– When Michael Hines and Richard Werenski became the fifth and sixth current Georgia Tech golfers to qualify for the U.S. Amateur, it was a big deal not only for them and teammates Anders Albertson, Seth Reeves, Bo Andrews and Ollie Schniederjans.
Count head coach Bruce Heppler in on the joy, too.
“Coach was saying he thinks it’s a new record for him, six guys,” said Hines. “Coach is pumped.”
And why not? As Werenski said, “I don’t know how many times it’s happened, but it’s pretty freaking awesome.”
It’s never happened at Tech, yet even in the excitement about the Yellow Jackets sending most of their roster to the world’s largest amateur tournament Aug. 12-18 at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., there is this: for Werenski and Hines, it was part of therapy.
You might say that they each recently disappeared down a rabbit hole last spring. They’ve each bounced back from springs gone sour.
Werenski moved into the Tech lineup almost immediately as a freshman in the fall of 2010, and was solid again as a sophomore when he tied for seventh in the ACC. Then, last summer he won the prestigious Porter Cup. As a junior, he struggled while playing in six of 12 events, and didn’t make the travel team over Tech’s last four.
His last round of the year for the Jackets was an 83 at the Linger Longer Invitational. That lingered longer than he would’ve liked. Golf can work that way.
“Over four years you’re probably going to have a year where you don’t play the way you want and the team is so strong,” Werenski said. “There are going to be times in your career where you’re working on swing stuff, changing for the better, but it takes time.
“I was working on some stuff this spring and this summer. Things are starting to click for me. I think it’s going to work. In golf, any sport really, sometimes you’ve got to get a little worse to get better.”
The rising senior from South Hadley, Mass., was better Tuesday when he shot rounds of 70-67 (-7) to tie for medalist honors at the Cape Cod National Golf Club in Brewster, Mass., and capture one of three spots from a field of 84.
Hines came from another direction. He was less heralded than fellow freshman Jason Hak upon arriving at Tech yet put together a season in ways more consistent – until the ACC Tournament.
He played in six of the first 10 events, and then after earning his way onto the travel squad for the conference championship, he was replaced by Seth Reeves for the NCAA Regionals and NCAA Championship.
It had something to do with his 83-83-77 showing at ACCs.
Where Werenski was – and still is – integrating mechanical tweaks and, “working on the mental thing, trying not to put so much pressure on myself,” Hines slipped largely because of a loss of traction between the ears.
That continued even as summer tournaments began.
“At the end of the season, I hit a slump that I can’t even describe,” Hines said. “I just couldn’t put the ball in play and I didn’t have a good summer, but things are getting better … finally this past week or so it’s begun clicking. Now I’m stepping over shots and I know I can hit them.”
Where Reeves, Schniederjans and Albertson all qualified from the same course – their beloved Capital City Club Crabapple — Hines and Werenski, like Andrews before them, went different routes.
Hines – who is from Acworth – preferred the same route. He wanted to try to grab one of five spots at Crabapple.
Craig Hines had another, um, plan.
“I was going to do Crabapple, and I asked my dad to sign up for me,” the rising sophomore said. “And he said to wait another week for financial reasons. When I went to do it, it was full.”
From there Hines went online to search other qualifying sites. He settled on Tennessee National Golf Club in Loudon.
“It was a long links-looking course along the Tennessee River, generous off the tee and it has some big greens,” he explained. “I said this looks like a place that bodes well for me. I got up there and fell in love with the course.”
Trepidation was part of the recipe, however, as Dad had to caddy.
“My friend was leaving to go on vacation. It was his first time caddying since I was like 12, and that really doesn’t count,” Hines said. “I was actually kind of scared because he’s sometimes the one who gets too serious; I thought I would have to calm him down.
“He just carried [the bag], backed away and let me do my thing. On the greens, he’d say, to get to my line and hit good putts and that helped a lot. He plays quite a bit. He’s like a 10-handicap. He kinda knows what he’s doing.”
Upon ending up in a three-way tie for second place (70-73, -1) at a sectional that would send three golfers to Brookline, Hines emerged with a five-foot par putt on the first playoff hole.
Now, to Werenski’s neighborhood the Jackets will go. He lives about an hour away from the U.S. Amateur site, and although he’s never played the course, his local knowledge may come in handy.
The Tech players will travel large, and the event will have a feel somewhat like ACCs or NCAAs in that there will be so many friendly faces.
“We’re all good friends, and we all get along pretty well. It definitely doesn’t hurt. People might be more comfortable,” Werenski said. “I know the area pretty well, and it will be cool. It’s kind of like a home tournament for me.”
Fall semester begins at Tech the day after the U.S. Amateur. The Jackets will get a jump on their season in a big way – too big to fit everyone in the same practice foursome. It will take two groups to get that done.
“We all have family going up,” Hines said. “We’re definitely going to be hanging out and practicing together, going out to eat. I’ve got my confidence back, and I’m ready to see what happens.”
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