CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – When he goes to USC in the fall, drama should be at the top of T.J. Vogel’s list of potential majors.
Vogel played the lead role in a compelling, edge-of-your-seat act that unraveled in the final round of the Rolex Tournament of Champions on Independence Day.
He sent the captivated audience to their feet with a deft chip-in for eagle on the second hole of a three-way, sudden-death playoff with Gavin Hall and Byeung-Hun An.
“That was my money shot,” said Vogel, who used a 63-degree wedge for the shot.
Vogel, winless in dozens of AJGA starts, notched his first AJGA victory in what was also his last AJGA start. He’ll now head to Southern California with his junior golf career fulfilled.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am… for this to be my last AJGA and my first victory,” he said. “Unbelieveable.”
The 18-year-old from Cooper City, Fla., also offered his thanks to Golfweek. When he arrived at Dalhousie Golf Club for Rolex, Vogel told Golfweek, “I definitely want to leave here with a victory, and feel like I can do it.”
But victory for Vogel – who entered the final round as an overnight leader by two shots – was anything but a certainty in a tense, nail-biter final round.
Gunning for Vogel was Hall, a baby-faced 14-year-old who amazed crowds with his maturity, solid ball-striking, and touch around the greens.
“Gavin played great,” said Vogel. “He’s going to be good.”
Hall stuck his approach on the par-3 13th to 10 feet and converted the birdie to steal the lead from Vogel, who emerged from the clubhouse with a bulky putter after a 45-minute rain delay.
“That was a turning point,” Hall said of his birdie on 13.
Vogel’s turning point, however, would come just two holes later on the par-5 15th. From nearly 250 yards out, Vogel stuck a 3-wood to 5 feet. Though he missed the eagle putt, the tap-in birdie gave him the lead again and the confidence he needed heading into the final few holes.
“I was so pumped after that,” said Vogel. “That was a big momentum swing… and it gave me the lead back which is what I needed at that point.”
The scene was set as the two combatants came to the par-5 18th, an easy birdie hole.
Vogel stepped to the tee with a one-shot lead and promptly blocked his drive wide right. His ball nestled in long fescue and he was forced to take an unplayable.
Hall found the fairway, and his approach from there left him with an up-and-down opportunity for birdie. Vogel, meanwhile, needed to two-putt from 50 feet down a steep ridge for his par.
Vogel ran his putt 10 feet by and his come-backer slid past, giving Hall a chance to win the tournament.
Unbelieveably, his 5-footer curled nearly around the entire cup and lipped out. Hall took the agonizing rejection better than one might expect.
“I learned to never give up,” he said of his Rolex experience. “I had so many chances… you just have to keep grinding and you never know what can happen. I had so many chances.”
But while the gallery focused on Vogel and Hall coming up the 18th, in the group ahead, Byeong-hun An had thrust himself into the golf tournament. An birdied Nos. 17 and 18 and would now participate in an unexpected three-way playoff for the title.
“I got really lucky to be in the playoff,” said An. “I thought I had a chance (of being in the playoff) but not really.”
All three players made routine birdies on the first playoff hole, but as the players were shuttled back to the 18th tee, a steady rain began to fall.
“I was like, ‘I’m ending this now,’ ” said Vogel.
Vogel piped his drive down the middle and had the best approach, just off the green 20 feet from the pin.
An found thick rough and failed to reach the green with his chip, all but eliminating him from the playoff. Hall – who laid up with his approach – hit a solid full wedge to 7 feet.
But as he said he wanted to do, Vogel ended the tournament on his terms with a chip that trickled into the hole for eagle and his first AJGA win.
“I definitely would’ve liked no stress and cruised to victory,” he said, “but this was unbelieveable.
“It was a war.”
And he was the last standing when the curtain fell.
• • •
Victoria Tanco may have a difficult time topping her week at Rolex in the coming weeks.
Tanco produced a flawless, nine-shot win at the Rolex Tournament of Champions, finishing with a staggering 13-under 275 total. Left in her wake were Karen Chung, who finished solo second at 4-under 284 and Ani Gulugian who finished third a shot behind Chung.
“It feels great,” said Tanco, who called the win her best ever.
That’s saying quite a bit, considering the titles she’s collected in the past year. Tanco won earlier this year at the Mizuno Junior at Innisbrook and took home wins in 2008 at the Junior Orange Bowl, Ping Invitational, Rolex Girls, and Scott Robertson.
She was forced to interrupt an interview to sign an autograph.
“It’s cool to sign autographs because it’s not something you do everyday,” she said.
And neither is playing in a U.S. Women’s Open. Next week, Tanco will travel to Bethlehem, Pa., for the Open, her second straight year playing it. The week after that she’ll travel to Bedminster, N.J., for the U.S. Girls’ Junior. But which is she looking forward to more?
“Both of them because they’re two great tournaments,” said Tanco. “It’s great to play with professionals because you don’t get to play with them two times a year if you’re lucky.”
Tanco, last year’s Rolex player of the year, has already left an indelible mark on junior golf, producing in a short time one of the most accomplished careers the AJGA has seen.
If she were to hoist a trophy at the U.S. Girls’ Junior, junior golf immortality would be sure to follow.
“I hope to win there,” she said.
At this point, winning is part of her routine.