T.J. Vogel started strongly. Then he poured it on. The 21-year-old Miami resident won the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship on Saturday with a near-historic performance, defeating Kevin Aylwin, 12 and 10, at 7,670-yard, par-71 Soldier Hollow Golf Course.
Much like his beloved Miami Heat, Vogel was able to bring a championship back to South Florida in convincing fashion. His victory is the second-largest margin in APL history. In the championship match of the 1985 APL, Jim Sorenson defeated Jay Cooper, 12 and 11, at Wailua Golf Course in Lihue, Hawaii.
Vogel won the first two holes and stretched his lead to 8 up with wins at holes 11, 12 and 13. In all, Vogel made eight birdies in the morning round, including six on his last seven holes, to head to lunch with a 10-up lead.
Not even a midday downpour could cool Vogel, who continued his dominant performance in the afternoon round. After halving holes 19 through 22, Vogel won the par-3 fifth, the 23rd of the match, and closed out his opponent with a birdie on the par-5 eighth, the 26th of the match. He did not make a bogey or lose a hole all day.
"I felt [more] comfortable today than I felt the entire week," said Vogel, a senior at the University of Florida. "Normally when I wake up I feel anxious, like I can't eat, I just want to get going. Today I was able to eat. I felt so confident that it just blocked out any of the pressures that I had. Nothing was going to stop me."
Vogel consistently outdrove Aylwin by 40-plus yards and was hitting mid-to-short iron approaches while the 23 year old from New Smyrna Beach, Fla., was hitting hybrids or even fairway woods. For example, after both players hit driver on the sixth hole, Aylwin needed a hybrid for his approach, while Vogel hit a 7-iron.
"My length really helped today," said Vogel. "That was probably the biggest difference. It’s a lot easier when you're hitting wedges. You can hit greens with 7‑irons all the time, but you're going to score with your wedges."
Vogel was extended to the 18th hole in three of his first four matches at Soldier Hollow, but seemed to find his groove early in his semifinal match against 2011 APL runner-up Derek Ernst. Over his final 68 holes, Vogel made 22 birdies and just one bogey.
"The first few matches were tough," said Vogel. "If I was a little off, I could have been going home. But I really found something in my swing when I played Ernst and it was even better today."
Vogel transferred to the University of Florida from the University of Southern California in 2011 to be closer to his family. This spring, Vogel was named second-team All America. His plans for the next few months include the Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur, but it is next April’s event that takes place 600 miles north of Miami that really caught his attention.
"It's in the back of my head," said Vogel, "but it's too surreal right now to be thinking that I'm going to be playing in the  Masters. Once I get that [likely] invitation, it will hit me."
The Masters has awarded the APL champion an invitation since Ralph Howe III won in 1988.
Earlier this year, Vogel and Aylwin were paired together during the final round of the JU Invitational, a collegiate event in Florida. Though Vogel won the tournament by two strokes, Aylwin actually outscored Vogel on the day, 70 to 74. At Soldier Hollow, the result was dramatically different.
After not trailing in either his quarterfinal or semifinal round, Aylwin struggled to find his swing from the start on Saturday, missing his opening drive into the right rough. He bogeyed four of the first 11 holes and even when he was able to make birdies – from 15 feet at both the 14th and 18th, and three feet at the 22nd – Vogel matched him.
"I wish I could have lasted a little longer out there," said Aylwin, who has four classes left to earn his degree from the University of North Florida. "I didn’t have my swing today. I’m a feel player and my timing was off, but he played great. I made two 20-footers and chipped in, and was still 10 down."
For his victory, Vogel receives a gold medal, custody of the James D. Standish Trophy, a 10-year APL exemption, exemptions into the next two U.S. Amateurs, a three-year exemption from local U.S. Open qualifying (provided he remains an amateur) and the likely invitation to the 2013 Masters Tournament. Aylwin is exempt into next month's U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills Country Club in suburban Denver and receives an exemption out of local qualifying for the 2013 U.S. Open, along with a three-year APL exemption.
The APL is one of 13 individual national championships conducted annually by the United States Golf Association, 10 of which are strictly for amateurs.
Michael Trostel is the curator/historian at the USGA Museum. Email him at email@example.com.
Midway, Utah – Result from Saturday’s 36-hole final at the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship being held at 7,670-yard, par-71 Soldier Hollow Golf Course.
T. J. Vogel, Miami, Fla. (136) def. Kevin Aylwin, New Smyrna Beach, Fla. (139), 12 and 10