Fresh off his best season, South Hadley’s Richy Werenski takes aim at US Open

  • Richy Werenski watches his tee shot on the 14th hole during the final round of the 3M Open in Blaine, Minn., July 26. AP

  • Richy Werenski celebrates a birdie on the 15th hole during the final round of the 3M Open golf tournament in Blaine, Minn., Sunday, July 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King) Andy Clayton-King—AP

  • Richy Werenski, of South Hadley, lines up a birdie putt on the 14th hole during the final round of the 3M Open golf tournament in Blaine, Minn., July 26. Werenski tied for third. The following week he won the Barracuda Championship for his first career victory. Werenski will play in the U.S. Open this week. AP

  • Richy Werenski hits out of the rough on the 15th fairway during the first round of the Northern Trust golf tournament at TPC Boston, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020 in Norton, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa) Charles Krupa—AP

  • Richy Werenski prepares to hit from the 12th tee during the first round of the BMW Championship, Aug. 27 at Olympia Fields Country Club in Olympia Fields, Ill. Werenski reached the second round of the FedEx Cup playoffs for the first time in his career. He finished tied for 20th. AP

Sports Editor
Published: 9/16/2020 6:51:25 PM

Richy Werenski will tee it up in his fourth major Thursday afternoon.

The South Hadley native played in his second PGA Championship a month ago. Now, he’s about to play in his second U.S Open.

The fourth-year PGA Tour pro enters the USGA championship at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York, fresh off his best season.

And unlike the PGA Championship, where he went straight from his first career win right to the major in San Francisco, he’s had time to prepare.

The PGA “was a last-minute deal so I really didn’t feel like I could prepare for that one hardly at all,” Werenski said Tuesday night. “I feel like I’ve prepared for this one a lot better. We’ll see.”

He’ll need to be prepared for the West Course at Winged Foot. He arrived on Sunday and spent the early part of the week learning a course that he will play for the first time in his career.

“It’s pretty special. It’s hard. It’s extremely hard, probably the toughest course I’ve ever seen,” he said. “But it’s fair at the same time. It’s going to be interesting to see what they do with the pins. Some greens only have a couple realistic pin locations. If they get crazy with the pins, you’ll see a lot of high scores. If they keep it manageable then I think it’s a very fair golf course. It’s not super firm. If you’re in the fairway hitting a short to mid-iron you can stop it fine.”

The USGA is known for grooming the rough to be extremely difficult and that will again be the case this week.

“These fairways are tight. You’re going to hit it in the rough,” Werenski said. “If you hit it in the rough on the longer holes you’re not getting to the green. You have to accept that. If you can keep it in the fairway, it makes it a lot easier, but the green complexes are really tough. There’s a lot going on there, too. Tee to green, there is nothing easy about it.”

The weather could make the nearly 7,500-yard course feel even longer. The U.S. Open was originally scheduled for June, but was moved due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While Thursday is expected to be warm, the rest of the week looks like temperatures in the 60s.

“I played early (Tuesday) morning and it was cold,” said Werenski, who will tee off No. 10 at 12:10 p.m. with Taylor Pendrith and Renato Paratore. “It was cold for the first hour and it was the totally opposite wind direction from the previous day that I played and I was hitting 3 woods where I was hitting 3 iron. You don’t know what you’re going to get.”

Werenski, 28, is hoping his game continues to be where it’s been this year. He missed back-to-back cuts in February, then tied for 17th at the Honda Classic. Afterwards, PGA officials shut the season down due to the pandemic. Three months later, the season resumed and he went on a run of six straight tournaments where he made the cut. He capped the run with his first career victory, a win in a playoff at the Barracuda Championship.

“I see guys out here all the time winning and I’m like, ‘Man, I know I can win. This guy just won, I know I can win.’ But you don’t know until you actually do it,” Werenski said. “It was definitely nice to get that first one. It frees you up a little bit. You’re not wondering like, ‘Am I ever going to win out here?’ It was definitely a good feeling.”

The victory qualified him for the PGA Championship, where he missed the cut. Two weeks later he was back in the FedEx Cup playoffs. He finished 68th at The Northern Trust then tied for 20th at the BMW Championship.

It was the first time he reached the postseason’s second event. While he had a good finish, it wasn’t enough to propel him to the third event. He finished 41st in the FedEx Cup standings.

“It was really cool,” Werenski said of his FedEx experience. “It’s been such a weird year, you know. I didn’t know what to expect. After just missing (the playoffs) last year, I knew I was playing good golf, and I know I’m plenty good enough to stay out here for a long time.

“Things just feel into place a little bit,” he added. “Every year that you are out here you kind of get a little more comfortable. You learn some things about yourself, things about your golf game, you get a little bit better and things can happen quick.”

Happen quick, indeed.

Werenski was in a car accident last October. He was driving alone in the left lane on a highway when someone merged into him, hitting the rear passenger side of his car. Werenski spun across four lanes and hit the jersey barrier head on. He walked away with a broken wrist, but the injury ended his 2019 season.

“I was lucky that I didn’t need surgery,” he said. “I was just in a cast for a little over a month. I kind of thought when I came out of the cast that it was going to be totally fine, I would be going back to business as usual. It took me a month and a half before I could really make full swings 100 percent.”

He made his return in January, but missed the cut at The American Express. He tied for 73rd the following week at the Farmers Insurance Open, but then missed those two straight cuts at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Puerto Rico Open.

Then Werenski hit his stride. He’s hoping the momentum he’s gained this year carries over to the U.S. Open as well as 2020-2021 season. Unlike other sports that have a months-long offseason, golf keeps going.

“It helps” not having an offseason, Werenski said. “You don’t have that month or two off to mess with stuff in your swing. You’re still competitively sharp, mentally and physically. I think it doesn’t really feel like the season just ended. It feels like just another tournament right in the middle of the grind.”

Winged Foot will be a grind, but Werenski is in a position to just focus on the tournament. With his first career victory came exempt status on the PGA Tour through the 2022-2023 season.

“I feel very free,” Werenski said. “I feel like I can go out and play my game. I don’t have to push or anything, I’m not fighting for my card right now. I know I can just go play and I know my game is good. Good stuff is going to happen. Just trying to get that second win.”

Mike Moran can be reached at Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.

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