MIDWAY, Utah – (July, 13, 2012) -- Friday the 13th turned out to be a lucky day for the state of Florida, as T.J. Vogel and Kevin Aylwin, both residents of the Sunshine State, each won two matches to advance to Saturday's 36-hole final of the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship being conducted at the 7,670-yard, par-71 Soldier Hollow Golf Course.
Vogel thwarted Derek Ernst’s bid to reach back-to-back APL finals. Vogel birdied the first three holes, seven in total, to close out the two-time Mountain West Player of the Year at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, 4 and 3.
“I came out and made two 20-foot putts right away,” said Vogel of his quick start against Ernst. “Probably the two longest putts I’ve made all week.”
Vogel struggled with his swing in his Friday morning 1-up quarterfinal victory over Alberto Sanchez, missing several tee shots left, so he went to the driving range to look for a quick fix.
“I took about 20 swings,” said Vogel, 21, of Miami. “I’m the type of player who can fix himself. I think it’s important that when you’re in big tournaments – under pressure and you have to hit good shots – to know what your tendencies are.”
Vogel transferred to the University of Florida from the University of Southern California in 2011 to be closer to his family. This spring, Vogel won two collegiate tournaments and was named second-team All America. Vogel spoke to his coach, Buddy Alexander, the 1986 U.S. Amateur champion, on the phone Thursday night.
“I told him I’m a little behind in my summer class, but he said not to worry about that right now,” said Vogel with a smile.
Vogel’s father, Joe, is caddieing for him this week. The elder Vogel injured his leg walking the hilly terrain of Soldier Hollow, but has stayed on the bag while wearing a knee brace for support.
“He’s moving a little slower,” said Vogel, “but sometimes I play really quick so it helps me play at a better pace and stay within myself.”
Vogel has some familiarity with, Aylwin, 23, of New Smyrna Beach, Fla. The two were paired together in the final round of the JU Invitational, a collegiate event in Florida that Vogel won by two strokes. (Aylwin tied for fourth.)
On Friday, Aylwin did not trail in either of his matches. In near-parallel performances, he birdied the first, seventh and eighth holes in both the morning and afternoon rounds and owned a 2-up lead at the turn in both matches.
Against Kyle Beversdorf, 20, of Plymouth, Minn., in the semifinals, Aylwin hit an 8-iron to 10 feet on the 174-yard 12th and drained the putt to stretch his lead to 3 up. But Beversdorf would not go away, birdieing the 13th and 15th holes to cut Aylwin’s lead to 1 up.
On the 223-yard 17th, Aylwin hit a 5-iron to the front-center of the green, leaving himself a 30-foot putt that broke right to left.
“I was hoping it would stay up,” said Aylwin, “and it stayed flat the last three feet. I didn’t want to go to 18. He was pretty hot.”
Very little of Aylwin’s technique looks conventional – he grips the club like a baseball bat and employs a split-handed grip on a belly putter – but the results this week have been extraordinary.
“It doesn’t matter how it looks or what other people think,” said Aylwin. “If it works, I’m going to go with it.”
At 23, Aylwin is competing in his fourth APL and seventh USGA championship. He qualified for last year’s APL at Bandon Dunes, but skipped it to play in the Florida State Amateur at Doral, where he finished second. This year, Aylwin had no scheduling conflicts and found that Soldier Hollow suits his left-to-right shot shape.
“It just fits my eye,” said Aylwin. “A lot of the tee shots are set up for cuts, so I can just walk up and can see a line and don’t have to worry about picking targets.”
As finalists, both Vogel and Aylwin earn exemptions into next month’s U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills Village, Colo. They are also exempt from local qualifying for next year’s U.S. Open. The champion, if he remains an amateur, receives a likely invitation to the 2013 Masters, a 10-year APL exemption, a gold medal and custody of James D. Standish Trophy for the ensuing year. The runner-up receives a three-year APL exemption and a silver medal.
Saturday’s 36-hole final is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. MDT.
The APL is one of 13 individual national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.