By Jonah Bronstein
Last summer, Richy Werenski passed on playing in the Porter Cup, favoring rest and recovery after a weekend safari at the Southern Amateur, where temperatures top 100 degrees and Werenski finished tied for second.
With both tournaments teeing off at the same time this year, Werenski, a native of South Hadley, Mass. who played high school golf in South Carolina and is entering his junior year at Georgia Tech, eagerly made the trip this week to Niagara Falls Country Club.
“I heard this tournament is absolutely awesome,” Werenski said Saturday, basking in the sunlight and soft breeze coming off the escarpment after a four-day performance that could be described in the same fashion.
Werenski won his first prestigious amateur trophy with the steady precision of a wire walker — but far less showmanship than Nik Wallenda — hatching 16 birdies and an eagle and making but one bogey to win the 54th Porter Cup by two strokes over Virginia Tech sophomore Denny McCarthy.
“That’s awesome,” said defending champion Patrick Rodgers, who finished third. “To go through the first three rounds and most of the fourth round without a bogey is really impressive. I wish I could’ve done that myself.”
“God almighty,” proclaimed mid-amateur Scott Harvey, who played alongside Werenski in the final round, “it was phenomenal to watch.”
Werenski’s four-day score of 263, 17 shots under par, is the second-lowest in tournament history. He shot 68 on Saturday after carding 66, 62 and 67 in the first three rounds.
“I don’t think anyone lost it this week,” said McCarthy, the first and fourth-round medalist whose 15-under score is the third best in Porter Cup history. “He went out and won it.”
Rodgers went one stroke lower than his winning effort last year, becoming just the seventh player to ever shoot 13-under or better at the tournament, and was still never a threat to Werenski’s lead over the final 36 holes.
Werenski made the turn Saturday at 17-under, having yet to make bogey, and within driving distance of Brian Harman’s tournament record of 22-under set in 2007.
After one more birdie and three straight pars, Werenski finally put a blemish on his scorecard, overshooting the green with his second shot on the par-4 14th hole, chipping too far on his approach and then missing a long putt to try and save par.
“I wanted to go bogey-free all four rounds, which would’ve been really cool,” Werenski said. “Once I made bogey, I tried to forget about it and hit the next shot good.”
The previous hole typified Werenski’s methodical dominance of this tournament. Going far right on his second shot on the par-5 he had birdied in each of the first three rounds, Werenski’s ball banged into an oak tree and then position itself behind two other natural obstructions, making a clear shot to the green impossible. Werenski calmly pitched into the fairway, then got up and down to save par. He pulled the same trick on No. 5, only that time he found himself in trouble on the left side, and pitched back to safety with a lefty stroke.
“I tried to stay as patient as I could out there,” he said. “I didn’t fire at any flag sticks. I didn’t really hit it in any bad spots, spots that you can’t get out of. My short game was pretty good. I had a lot of up and downs, a lot of good saves for par. My putter was working really well, too.”
Werenski did it all while carrying his own bag, something he does while playing for the Yellowjackets, but not normally in summer tournaments. The extra exertion and solitary walking sharpened Werenski’s focus.
“I feel like it makes me commit to my shot,” he said. “I don’t have any doubts. Sometimes, when you get a caddy, you start talking and second-guessing things.”
“He was playing with an incredible amount of confidence,” Harvey said. “You could just tell. He stepped up and hit it, went and hit it again. He wasn’t thinking about anything, he just had everything going. Chipping, putting, irons, driver — it was a lot of fun to watch.”
All the while, Werenski enjoyed his first Porter Cup experience, even if his quiet nature didn’t allow him to show it.
The “absolutely awesome,” Porter Cup, said the 54th champion, “did not disappoint.”