In four seasons at Georgia Tech, Richy Werenski was a solid member of a powerhouse, but not the star. He was a member of three ACC championship teams and was twice on the five-man team that reached the NCAA championships.
But in terms of stroke average, he was never better than the fifth-best player, overshadowed by stars Ollie Schniederjans and Anders Albertson. He didn't make All-ACC. As a junior, he played in just six events and was left off the postseason teams. Sunday evening, however, he became something far more significant – a future member of the PGA Tour.
Werenski won the BMW Charity Pro-Am for his first-ever victory on the Web.com Tour, the minor-league tour one notch below the PGA Tour. The win lifted him into second place on the money list with $258,958, ensuring that he’ll earn a tour card for the 2017 season by finishing in the top 25 on the money list. (The 25th player on last year’s Web.com money list earned $161,102.)
Back in Georgia, Tech coach Bruce Heppler was keeping track, constantly refreshing his phone for updates.
“I spend a lot of time refreshing my phone on the weekends,” Heppler said. “Which is a good thing.”
It’s his second season on the Web.com Tour. He is sixth in birdies per round (4.43) and seventh in scoring (69.79). Aggressive play on the greens is a strength of Werenski's.
“The thing I liked about him is he’s never been afraid to make a putt,” Heppler said. “That’s a huge thing to step in there and not worry about not making it. He's always been a confident putter, and that's rare."
This weekend in Greer, S.C.., he took just one bogey in the final 36 holes and amassed 13 birdies to play both the third and fourth rounds at 6-under. He scored birdies on the 15th and 16th holes on Sunday to provide the winning margin at 21-under 265.
“I tried my best not to look at a scoreboard until the very end, and I can say I did that until 18,” Werenski told reporters Sunday. “That’s something my coach told us at Georgia Tech – scoreboard watching brings in way too many variables. And you don’t want to pay attention to that, so I didn’t really know where I stood.”
He knows where he stands now.
At Tech, Heppler said that Werenski didn't enjoy himself on the course. Heppler sometimes joked with Werenski, a hunting-and-fishing type, that maybe he'd be happier if he had a fishing show. Werenski's obstacle was letting his mistakes bring him down.
“He just continued to beat himself up while he was playing,” Heppler said. “At some point, once you stick it in the ground for five hours, you’ve got to be on your side. I don’t think he knew how to do that. … It’s like you say to a guy, ‘If a caddy talked to you the way you talk to yourself, how long would he carry your bag?’ The answer is usually half a hole.”
Heppler surmises that Werenski has begun to figure that part out.
“He looks at ease,” he said.
He may have familiar company in the 2017 PGA Tour rookie class. Schniederjans is 10th on the Web.com money list and Albertson is 24th. If they can maintain spots in the top 25, they’ll join Tech tour members Matt Kuchar, Roberto Castro, Stewart Cink, Chesson Hadley, Bryce Molder and Cameron Tringale.
"It's nice to see people's dreams come true," Heppler said. "Now all he has to do is go compete with the 150 best players in the world."