U.S. Public Links Championship golf: T.J. Vogel, Kevin Aylwin outlast 154 others, prepared to meet in final
MIDWAY — At the start of the week, there were golfers from 42 states and six foreign countries vying to make the finals of the U.S. Public Links Championship at Solider Hollow Golf Course.
After 36 holes of medal play and some 90 holes of match play over five days, it's come down to a couple of golfers from the east coast of Florida who will be competing for the championship beginning Saturday at 7 a.m.
T.J. Vogel of Miami and Kevin Aylwin of New Smyrna Beach have outlasted and outclassed 154 other golfers and will meet bright and early Saturday in a 36-hole final for the prestigious Public Links trophy.
"It's pretty cool," said Vogel about the fact that a couple of Floridians will be playing in the mountains of Utah for the Public Links title.
Although they both hail from Florida and have played with each other once before in a college golf tournament earlier this year, the two golfers couldn't be more different as far as their resumes go.
Vogel has been a golf star most of his life. As a junior golfer, he won top events such as the Rolex Tournament of Champions in Missouri and the PGA Junior in Ohio. He was recruited by all the top colleges and chose to go to USC before leaving after two years to get closer to home and attend Florida this past year.
Aylwin on the other hand, said he was "quite fortunate" to get the chance to play for North Florida in the Atlantic Sun Conference. When asked what big tournaments he had won, he hesitated for a couple of seconds before recalling a couple of wins in local tournaments in Florida.
Vogel felt confident coming into the tournament and said, "I've done exactly what I wanted to do. I've been very solid."
On the other hand, Aylwin said it was "a little surprising" to make it all the way to the finals and admitted, "I've done a little better than I thought I'd do."
When they played together earlier this year at the JU Invitational at the TPC Stadium Course at Sawgrass, Vogel won the individual title, but Aylwin wasn't far behind in a tie for fourth place. They were paired together for the final round and Vogel recalls being impressed with Aylwin's game. He said he won't be overconfident Saturday.
"He's solid, he's a great player," said Vogel. "That's the thing about match play if you get hot — anything can happen."
Aylwin said Vogel "definitely hits it farther than me," but he's confident he can hold his own in the 36-hole finale.
"I hit it straight, which is what you have to do here," he said.
In Friday's matches, Aylwin defeated Paul McConnell of Texas in the morning quarterfinal 3 and 2, winning the first hole with a par and never trailing.
Then in the afternoon against Kyle Beversdorf of Minnesota, Aylwin again won the opening hole, this time with a birdie and went up by as many as three after 12 holes. Beversdorf won holes 13 and 15 to cut the lead to one and seemed to have the advantage at 16 when he hit the green in two.
Aylwin hit his wedge shot within 12 feet and then sank a left-to-right putt with a couple of feet of break to halve the hole.
"I just threw it out there and hoped it would keep coming back," he said.
That kept the margin at one and at 17, Aylwin faced a 35-foot birdie putt after Beversdorf missed a much longer putt, and he rammed it right in the middle.
"My dad told me, 'this putt's to win,' so I didn't want to leave it short," said Aylwin, who celebrated his 2 and 1 victory with a big fist pump.
Vogel trailed much of his morning match against 18-year-old Alberto Sanchez who had played well in last month's U.S. Open.
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