May 26, 2016
Last year, Richy Werenski won The Golf Channel reality show “Big Break.”
Last Monday, Werenski (Class of 2014), had his big breakthrough, winning his first professional tournament by shooting a final-round 65 at Thornblade Club in Greer, S.C., to take home the champions trophy at the BMW Charity Pro-Am Presented by SYNNEX Corporation.
“I’m still on Cloud Nine,” said Werenski, whose 21-under gave him a two-stroke victory over a trio of pursuers in the Web.com Tour event. “It’s been pretty exciting. It feels good.”
What feels even better is the accompanying payday of $121,000, which bave him $258,958 in earnings for the year, putting him in second on the yearly earnings list, and moving him into safe territory as far as qualifying for his PGA Tour card for 2017. The top 25 on the money list earn their Tour card.
“Last year it took like $161,000 for the 25th guy. So you figure it might go up a little bit but I’ve definitely made plenty already to have locked that up,” he said. “Obviously, it helps to win a tournament, because that’s a huge chunk, but you still have to play well. I had two second-place finishes before this, so I knew if I got a win it was going to be locked up.”
The hard part was locking up that win.
Werenski, who had six top-10 finishes, including a second-place finish at the 2013 Tar Heel Intercollegiate in four years at Tech, had twice tied as a runner-up in 2016, his second full season on the Web.com Tour, shooting 11-under at the Club Colombia Championship in Bogota, Colombia in early February, then, again a -15, ending up four shots back, in the El Bosque Mexico Championship Leon, Guanajato, Mexico, in late April.
Coming close didn’t leave him frustrated however.
“I knew it was only a matter of time. I know I’m playing really well so I just figured it would come eventually,” said Werenski, a native of South Hadley, Mass., who now lives in Bluffton, S.C. “Honestly, I didn’t feel any more pressure. I think not looking at the scoreboard, not really knowing how I stood, definitely helped me stick to my game plan. I went into the round saying, ‘Stick to your game plan no matter what and focus on that.’ I have a really good caddy. We have a great relationship. He kept talking to me. We were just having regular conversations, so it felt like every other round.”
Avoiding distractions wasn’t always easy.
“They put the scoreboard, it feels like, right there looking at you,” he said, with a laugh. “So you really have to commit to not looking at it.
“There were some loud roars out there,” he added. “You kind of say, ‘I wonder what that was?’ but you can’t think about it.”
But Werenski, who started the final day one shot back, helped himself by playing bogey-free over the final 27 holes, and he recorded three birdies on the back nine, including back-to-back on 15 and 16 to complete his second straight 65 and seal the deal.
Of the three courses played in the event — round 1 was played on The Preserve at Lake Keowee, where he shot four-under 68, round 2 was on The Preserve at Verdae, where he shot five-under 67 — Thornblade, the site of Rounds 3 and 4, was the one he felt played best to his game, further adding to his already brimming confidence.
“It’s definitely nice to know the courses and feel like you have a good grasp of the course but my game felt solid,” he said. “Even if it was a course I hadn’t really played as much, I think I still would have played well. I just feel so much more grounded and better as a player this year than I did last year. My mental game is better, my physical game is better, everything just feels really solid.”
He was an emotional rock until afterward, when he found his father, Michael, who made it to the event.
“My dad was lucky enough to be at the event. It was really cool that he got to see my first win after everything he’s done for me,” Werenski said, admitting that the first person he called was his mom. “He’s just been the most supportive person you could ever imagine for my entire career. To have him there….
“I didn’t actually see him until after I signed my scorecard,” he added. “He was crying and that made me tear up a little bit. You really can’t put it into words. I’m just really glad that he was there for that.”
Werenski said he was keeping the celebrating low-key this week — driving to Hilton Head, S.C., on Monday then to Florida for a week of training with his coaches. He’ll resume tournament play next weekend at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship in the Dominican Republic.
“I’m just kind of doing the same thing I usually do,” he said. “I’m not really doing anything crazy.”
Although the off-time will give him some time to get through the numerous congratulatory texts he’s received.
“I’ve pretty much heard from everybody,” he said, with a laugh.