April 3, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
They carry their own sticks in college golf, and they don't ride with partners or coaches in carts. They walk. So, most of the time they have to figure it out themselves.
Richy Werenski is still working at that as Georgia's Tech's well-respected golf team prepares for the Gary Koch Invitational this weekend in Tampa - the last stop before the ACC championships, where the Yellow Jackets have won three straight titles.
It's been an up-and-down deal for Tech . . . and for Werenski.
Lose three seniors from a squad that breathed upon and fogged the national championship trophy last spring/summer before falling - in a sport where just five compete at a time for their team - and whadya expect?
So, for Werenski (not to mention Tech head coach Bruce Heppler) figuring it out for himself is only part of the package. He's not exactly an elder statesman yet, but his gig has changed dramatically in a year. He's not a whipper-snapper any more but no sage either.
The young man from Massachusetts who prepped at the Heritage Academy in Hilton Head, S.C. while a student of the Hank Haney International Junior Golf Academy, played in every Tech event as a freshman, benefiting from having enrolled in Jan. 2010 and "gray-shirting" that spring before teeing it up for the Yellow Jackets in '10-'11.
It helped. He played a lot and got square in the class room, too, where by the way he had the highest GPA among Heritage Academy graduates.
This school year and season . . . it's been a little tougher go.
Werenski qualified for just two of Tech's four events in the fall even though the Jackets lost those three seniors from an ACC championship squad, and he played pretty well in those two. This spring, he's qualified for everything and has been steady, not spectacular.
This is different.
"Last year was my first year of playing and I learned a lot from the older guys - J.T. [Griffin], Kyle [Scott] and Paul [Haley]," Werenski said. "With those guys, basically nothing fazed them. They'd hit a bad shot, and . . . they were so confident that they could hit a terrible shot and they didn't care. I've tried to do that this year, especially recently."
The consigliore role has been another matter. Perhaps there's a bit of a gruff component required that may not agree with the dimpled- and fair-haired sophomore.
Golf is mostly an individual sport, of course, but in college they play a team game. That's different, too. Most of these guys stopped playing team sports early in middle school. They've spent A LOT of time dialed in only on themselves.
Doesn't mean they don't like each other. It's just . . . not the same.
Add the fact that many college golfers trust their private coach (or a parent) implicitly, and if you're Heppler (or one of his contemporaries) chances are you've got five drummers each marching to a unique cadence. Gotta get 'em in line.
Yet there appears to be an instinctive push among college golfers, at least most of those witnessed over time at Tech, to try to help each other because, again, it is a team sport.
The dymanic is made a little more interesting on the Tech squad by the fact that the only senior, All-American James White, is not a big talker/counselor/advisor himself.
"The whole dynamic changed once [the seniors] left," Werenski said. "Now, I'm one of the older guys. Ollie and Anders are unbelievable players; they're way ahead of where I was when I was as a freshman."
But they're not necessarily by virtue of their skill sets unbelievable college golfers - yet. A psychological component matters. So most try to help each other . . . somehow.
"Anders is very receptive. They give me advice, too," Werenski said. "Ollie is a lot like I am. Sometimes I might try to tell him, and he hears me but . . . he's definitely different in how he's going to react than Anders."
Meantime, Werenski continues trying to sort out himself.
"A lot of times I can figure out what I'm doing on my own because I've had so many lessons," he said. "You might not know how to fix it. You talk to the guys on the team, or I might call my coach and say, 'I know I'm doing this; how can I fix it?'
"I tend to get . . . on the back swing, and then I try to hit it really hard. I'm just trying to smooth it out, keep everything real quiet."
That might work on the course, but on a college golf team . . . that's a different deal. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.