Nothing motivates a competitor more than being told to take a seat on the bench. This spring, Richy Werenski couldn’t crack Georgia Tech’s talented lineup and was forced to watch from the sidelines as his teammates participated in the postseason, which included the NCAA Division I Championship not far from their Atlanta campus at the Capital City Club.
The experience was humbling for Werenski, 21, of South Hadley, Mass., who had not missed postseason competition in his first two years at the school.
With the U.S. Amateur coming to his home state in a few months, Werenski vowed that he would wipe out the disappointment.
"Right after the postseason, I said I needed to work on some things," said Werenski. "I am always trying to get better every single tournament, but this is a really big one for me, being in my home state."
Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler said Werenski needed to stop mentally beating himself up on the course. For three years, he had been trying to ingrain that message into his ultra-competitive player, and this summer, Werenski finally seems to be taking the advice to heart.
Werenski is one of six current Georgia Tech golfers competing in the 113th U.S. Amateur. On Monday, he highlighted his 4-under 66 at Charles River Country Club, the companion stroke-play qualifying venue, with a double-eagle 2 on the 16th hole (his seventh hole of the day). He followed with a solid 3-over 73 at The Country Club on Tuesday to easily qualify for match play, which begins Wednesday at TCC.
"The game is too hard to keep beating yourself up," said Heppler of Werenski. "He’s made a very conscious effort to be nice to himself when he’s playing and I think it will help him a lot."
Controlling emotions on the golf course is something every competitor must conquer. Some take longer than others to realize it. Bob Jones, Georgia Tech’s most renowned golf alum, had to harness an intolerable temper before he became a nine-time USGA champion.
"It’s taken three years for him to listen to me," said Heppler of Werenski. "But it’s not a unique story."
Late in Tuesday’s round, the new and improved Werenski was on full display. When he came within a few feet of driving his ball out of bounds at No. 15, Werenski calmly assesses the situation and made a bogey 5. Two holes later, he pull-hooked his drive out of bounds, but recovered to drain an 8-foot downhill bogey putt, when 6 or 7 was staring him in the face.
"I had a lot of long talks with people," said Werenski of his on-course attitude change. "I have been working pretty hard on that. I worked a lot on it [this past spring] and all summer. It’s been a decent summer. I haven’t missed a cut in any of my amateur tournaments."
Right after tying for 29th in his Porter Cup defense at the end of July, Werenski went to Cape Cod National for his U.S. Amateur sectional qualifier. It was one of the last sectionals and five Tech teammates – Bo Andrews, Oliver Schniederjans, Anders Albertson, Michael Hines and Seth Reeves – were already in the field. Werenski, had circled this particular Amateur on his calendar ever since The Country Club was awarded the championship several years ago. He had qualified for the Amateur in 2009, 2010 and 2011, advancing to the Round of 32 in 2010 at Chambers Bay, but this championship was more meaningful because of its location.
"I was really confident going into qualifying," said Werenski. "I didn’t finish well at the Porter Cup, but there was a lot of good stuff going on. I was hitting the ball well. Everything felt good. I felt pretty confident I was going to make it."
Once he qualified, Werenski made the 90-minute drive from South Hadley last week to see The Country Club for the first time. Even though he competed in many state events, he had never set foot on the property where Francis Ouimet made history 100 years ago by becoming the first amateur to win the U.S. Open.
"This is a special place," said Heppler. "It’s a special week and a special tournament."
Werenski immediately fell in love with the layout, calling it his favorite venue among the four U.S. Amateur sites where he has competed. Some 25 family members and friends were at Charles River on Monday his father, Michael, saw the ball drop for the double eagle, Werenski’s second in his young career. His 18-year-old brother, Mickey, an incoming freshman at Texas A&M, is serving as his caddie.
"I get a lot of support from them," said Werenski. "It’s most likely going to be my last U.S. Am and to have it in my home state where all my friends and family can come out and watch is pretty cool."
With six active golfers in the field, Heppler is doing a lot of scoreboard-watching and spectating this week. Before Werenski completed his 73, word had reached Heppler that Andrews had posted a 63 at Charles River, guaranteeing Tech at least two players in the 64-player match-play draw. Reeves, Schiederjans and Albertson were also in contention to qualify.
"We’re all pulling for each other," said Andrews.
Werenski echoed those sentiments during a post-round interview. Of course, none of the Georgia Tech players wants to face each other in match play, unless it comes in the 36-hole final on Sunday.
Having already experienced the pain of sitting, Werenski is just happy to have a tee time on Wednesday.
It’s time for others to watch.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.