Aylwin, Vogel to face off in Public Links final

Kevin Aylwin reacts after sinking his birdie putt at the 17th hole to win his match 2 and 1, during the semifinal round of match play at the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links at Soldier Hollow Golf Course in Midway, Utah.

Kevin Aylwin reacts after sinking his birdie putt at the 17th hole to win his match 2 and 1, during the semifinal round of match play at the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links at Soldier Hollow Golf Course in Midway, Utah.

MIDWAY, Utah – Kevin Aylwin’s lead was dwindling Friday when he came to Soldier Hollow’s 17th tee. What once looked like an easy victory now was becoming an uncertainty. His opponent’s charge only set up a dramatic finish, though.

Aylwin holed a 30-footer for birdie on the par-3 17th to close out Minnesota’s Kyle Beversdorf, 2 and 1, in the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur Public Links. “It feels a little bit like a dream,” said Aylwin, an honorable mention All-American this past season at North Florida. “It seems everything went right how I wanted it to at the end. It was pretty crazy.”

He was 3 up through 12 holes after hitting 8-iron to 10 feet and making birdie on that hole. Beversdorf, of Plymouth, Minn., responded by winning Nos. 13, 15 and 16. Aylwin, of New Smyrna Beach, Fla., closed out the match with two consecutive birdies.

He matched Beversdorf’s birdie at 16 to maintain a 1-up advantage, hitting pitching wedge to 12 feet. On No. 17, Aylwin’s 5-iron settled 30 feet from the hole, setting up his clinching putt. “He was pretty hot. I didn’t want to go to 18,” Aylwin said.

Aylwin putts with a mid-length putter. He doesn’t anchor it, and his hands are about 6 inches apart. It’s one of several unique aspects of his game. But it works.

He’ll face Florida senior T.J. Vogel, a second-team All-American this past season, in Saturday’s 36-hole final. The winner is expected to receive an invitation to next year’s Masters.

Vogel, of Cooper City, Fla., rolled to a 4-and-3 victory over Derek Ernst in the semifinals. Ernst, a member of this year’s U.S. Palmer Cup team, was runner-up in last year’s U.S. Amateur Public Links. Vogel made seven birdies in their match, including on the first three holes. He holed 20-footers on the first two holes.

“I felt like I haven’t putted well in this tournament instead of this match,” Vogel said. “Those 20-footers were the farthest putts I’ve made all week, so I felt like I was going to have a really good day on the greens.”

Vogel said a quick mid-day fix also helped his ballstriking after struggling with his swing in Friday’s morning’s 1-up quarterfinal victory over Alberto Sanchez. Vogel said he focused on “bumping his (left) hip” to keep from hitting the pull-hook that he fought in his quarterfinal match.

Said Ernst, “Every time I stuck a shot, he stuck it right in there, too. He’s playing really well.”

Vogel’s 4-and-3 victory was his largest margin of the week. Three of his five matches went to the 18th hole. Aylwin finished ninth in stroke play at Soldier Hollow with rounds of 69-70. Vogel was second after shooting 71-65, one shot back of medalist James Erkenbeck.

Vogel and Aylwin faced each other earlier this year in the final round of the Jacksonville Invitational at TPC Sawgrass’ Players Stadium Course. Aylwin’s final-round 70 was four shots better than Vogel, but Vogel earned the individual title with an even-par 216 total. Aylwin finished fourth, three shots back.

Vogel was a star junior who played at USC before transferring to Florida. Aylwin is a self-made player who has tinkered his way to success. Vogel was No. 9 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings this past season. Aylwin was ranked 41st. Both players have their fathers, who work in the golf industry, on the bag. Joe Vogel is a PGA of America member and the head women’s golf coach at Florida International. Mike Aylwin is the assistant superintendent at River Bend Golf Course in Ormond Beach, Fla.

Kevin Aylwin started wearing golf shoes only about a year ago. He carries two 60-degree wedges, preferring to hit one from the fairway and use the other for chip and bunker shots. He uses a 10-finger grip, but his right thumb doesn’t lie over the left. Instead, it moves until it’s perpendicular to his other thumb, resting on the back of his left hand. He swings well past parallel, but concedes, “Basically everybody at every tournament is longer than I am.

“I do whatever works,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how it looks or what other people think. If it works, I’m going to go with it.”

It’s working this week. He has one more tough opponent to face Saturday, with a trip to Augusta National likely on the line.

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