Werenski primed for FootJoy title

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For many golfers, contracting the flu likely means spending time in bed rather than on the golf course.

Not Richy Werenski.

The 17-year-old native of South Hadley, Mass., battled through symptoms of the flu and strep throat – as well as intense heat – for the first two days of the International Junior Golf Tour’s recent Tournament of Champions at Grand Cypress Resort’s North-South Course, firing an even-par 72 in the opening round and posting a 68 on Day 2.

“That first day was rough,” said Werenski, who has verbally committed to Georgia Tech. “I was really sick for the last nine or 10 holes and just felt like passing out. I started to feel a little better (in the second round), and by the end of the day I was almost back to feeling like my old self.”

Back at full strength, Werenski carded a final-round 69 to take third in the Tournament of Champions. The finish was the latest successful tournament for Werenski, who has recorded four IJGT wins in the past three years. He also tied for sixth in stroke play at last year’s U.S. Junior Amateur Championship and advanced to the round of 32 in match play.

This week, Werenski sets his sights on the American Junior Golf Association’s FootJoy Invitational, a major junior tournament played at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C. Werenski has played in a number of AJGA events in the past and said he is looking forward to the event because of the great field it always produces.

“From a competition aspect, AJGA events are great to play in,” he said. “In all the IJGT events there are usually only about five or six kids that have a good shot at winning. But since the AJGA events have such a good field, everyone there has a chance to win – especially at [FootJoy], because all the top junior players in the country are there.”

Werenski said he’s confident that he is one of those players that has a chance to grab a win at Sedgefield.

“My biggest problem (at the Tournament of Champions) was my putting,” he said. “But I’m starting to putt a lot better and I’m hitting the ball really well so I think I’ve got a pretty good shot.”

In April, Werenski finished T-8 at the Terra Cotta Invitational, a major amateur event made up of more than 75 percent college players. Werenski will have to start getting used to that caliber of play as he prepares to graduate from high school a semester early and report to Georgia Tech for the 2010 spring semester.

For the past year and a half, Werenski has attended the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head Island, S.C. He will complete one more semester at the IJGA’s private high school, Heritage Academy, and earn the rest of his high school credit through college-preparation courses, then enroll at Georgia Tech in January.

Werenski, No. 61 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings, decided to graduate early so that he could redshirt for one semester instead of the full year that many Division I recruits use.

“By taking this route, I can get a good head start on my classes and start to get acclimated with everything at college,” he said. “Most kids have to wait a whole year and by the end of that time they are starting to maybe get a little depressed because they aren’t playing. I think a half year is the perfect amount of time, though.”

Werenski said he is eager to be immersed in the training and practice habits of a Division I team but anticipates other adjustments off the golf course.

“Georgia Tech is a tough school, so I’m definitely going to have to work hard,” said Richy, whose 3.97 GPA is No. 1 in Heritage’s Class of 2010. “It would be awesome to eventually be an Academic All-American, though.”

Although Werenski will be at the IJGA for only one more semester, it may turn out to be one of his most memorable. Younger brother Michael will enroll in the fall.

“It will be great to be able to show him the ropes and everything,” Richy said. “We’ve always been competitive because he’s a pretty good player, too. I think we’ll really challenge and push each other.”

Michael Werenski has already begun to put together a nice resume for himself on the IJGT. At 15, Michael has succeeded in the 16-19 age division, finishing second at Wintonbury Hills in May. He was 12th at the 92-player Tournament of Champions, an event for the IJGT’s best 16-19-year-olds.

“I always wished I was the younger one,” Richy said with a laugh, “because whenever I really started to get into golf and started practicing hard, he would just follow me to the course. He always would pay attention to what I was doing to train, and so he got a pretty big head start on things.”

Richy said his training reached a new level at the IJGA. He works closely with Matt Fields, who also has coached Oklahoma State’s Morgan Hoffmann. Hoffmann just finished his freshman year at OSU ranked second in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings.

“Since coming (to the IJGA), Richy has a much better understanding of his swing and what he is capable of,” said Fields, the IJGA’s assistant director of golf. “After seeing players like Morgan go through the academy and watching them on a daily basis, he realizes that level of success is achievable. He sees that there’s no reason he can’t go out and become one of the top freshmen in the country.”

And the way Richy’s been playing lately, there’s no reason Michael should stop watching.

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