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Calm, cool and a champion: Werenski captures Porter Cup

Ga. Tech junior caps nearly flawless show with final round 68by Jay Skurski, The Buffalo News

LEWISTON – Welcome Richy Werenski to the list of elite amateur golfers in the country.

The laid-back 20-year-old’s spot was reserved after 72 magnificent holes this week at the 54th Porter Cup at Niagara Falls Country Club.

Werenski slipped on the winner’s green jacket Saturday evening after finishing a final round of 2-under-par 68, giving him a winning total of 17-under 263 and a two-shot victory over Denny McCarthy. Werenski’s winning total is the second best in Porter Cup history, trailing just the record 22 under shot by current PGA Tour member Brian Harman in 2007.

Incredibly, Werenski shot just one bogey over four rounds.

“It was definitely in there,” Werenski said of the thought of not having one hole over par all week. “I wanted to go bogey free all four rounds, which would’ve been really cool. But it’s all right.”

His performance was much more than all right. No matter what facet of the game it was, Werenski had it going.

“That just means you’re really strong mentally and you have a lot of control over your golf ball,” defending champion Patrick Rodgers, who finished in third place at 13 under, said about making just one bogey. “An incredible accomplishment that is, for sure. I played well, not as well as he did. What a great event for him.”

“God almighty. I just told him when we got done, that I’m pretty upset that he made one bogey,” said Scott Harvey, who joined Werenski and Justin Thomas in Saturday’s final group. “It was phenomenal to watch.”

Werenski’s from South Hadley, Mass., and will be a junior at Georgia Tech, but he’s got a California cool to him. He cracked a bright smile and shook hands with his playing partners after tapping in for par on the 18th green, but there was no raucous celebration. For a player who carried his own clubs all week, it looked business as usual.

“It’s hard to put in words but all the support that I’ve gotten over the last couple of years … it just feels really good,” he said.

Werenski took a conservative approach to his final round after coming into the day with a four-shot lead. He was content to aim for the middle of greens, confident that his putter would get the job done.

That was the case on the par-4 fifth hole, when he found tree trouble off the tee and was forced to chip out left-handed. He simply hit a wedge to about 5 feet and calmly sunk the par putt.

“I didn’t hit too many bad shots and when I did I played smart and got out of trouble and tried to save my par,” he said.

Despite his steady play, this was not a runaway. McCarthy made it close by starting his final round at a blistering pace, 5 under through the first six holes, including an eagle on the par-5 third hole. That got him to 15 under and within one shot of the lead at the time. McCarthy’s 72-hole total of 265 is the third-best in tournament history.

“I don’t think anyone lost it this week. He went out and won it,” McCarthy said of Werenski. “He made one bogey all week. That’s pretty impressive.

“I know he was playing pretty steady. He was probably going to shoot a couple under like he did [Saturday] and I thought I was going to have to shoot something in the low to mid 60s to put myself at the top or at least in a playoff, so I’m happy with the way I played.”

Werenski’s lone bogey came on the par-4 14th hole, when his approach shot from the rough with a pitching wedge went long. For the only time in four days, he couldn’t get up and down.

McCarthy was on the 16th tee when he found out he was within two and hit a beautiful 6-iron to 10 feet above the hole. His left-to-right putt came tantalizingly close but somehow didn’t fall. Werenski then made par on the final three holes look way more routine than it is.

“I noticed that he was playing with an incredible amount of confidence,” Harvey said of Werenski. “You could just tell. He stepped up and hit it, went and hit it again. … He just had everything going.”

Werenski’s previous best finish in a major amateur tournament was a second place at last year’s Southern Amateur, a tournament he skipped this year to play in his first Porter Cup.

“I heard this tournament is absolutely awesome and it didn’t disappoint,” he said.

While he may not have been on the list of pre-tournament favorites in a field that included Rodgers and Thomas – the No. 1-ranked college player – Werenski established himself on the national scene with his win.

“Most of the time they beat me,” he said. “It’s nice to have my turn right now.”

“He’s getting ready to be well known,” Harvey said. “This is one of the biggest tournaments in the world and he just dominated it. If they didn’t know him before, they know him now.”

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