Midway, Utah – Joe Vogel is the Tiger Woods of caddies.
Woods, of course, won the 2008 U.S. Open with stress fractures on his left leg. During the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Soldier Hollow Golf Course, Vogel likely tore the meniscus of his right leg.
“I hurt it out here walking,” said Joe, 53, a PGA professional and the women’s golf coach at Florida International University. “I do think I have a tear in the meniscus. It’ll be my third time.
“But it was worth it.”
That’s because making more than 10 treks as a caddie – the last few with a heavily bandaged leg – around what he called “the most difficult course I’ve ever walked,” Joe guided his son, T.J., to the championship, which ended with a 12-and-10 victory over Kevin Aylwin in the final.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Joe, who is also T.J.’s instructor. “He’s won many big championships over the years. But this one is by far the most exciting.”
T.J. started playing golf when he was five, and Joe recognized his son’s talent almost immediately.
“It was obvious he had a gift,” said Joe. “He was always a natural. He won the Doral Junior Publix four years in a row from age 7 to 10. So I knew he had something special. It was just a matter of keeping him on pace.”
Joe also knew when they arrived at that T.J. was going to play well in the championship match.
“As I watched him progress through the tournament, he was starting to feel it,” said Joe. “I knew this morning stepping on to the first tee that he was ready to go.”
Knowing his dad was injured, T.J. helped him by taking several clubs and walking to tees, especially those atop hills. Joe reciprocated by guiding him through the rain that blew through the area early in the afternoon round and disturbed T.J.’s composure.
“That kind of got me mad. I don’t know why,” said T.J., whose pace of played slowed during the storm. “He told me to hold on, you’re being ridiculous, you need to stop complaining and play. It’s good have Dad there to say stuff like that.”
So through sun and rain, up and down hills, through stroke play and match play, through bogeys and a lot of birdies, father and son worked together to win a national championship.
“I can’t even put into words how much this means to me and to him,” said T.J., “to be able to go through this whole thing with him every day, 36 holes a day, the last three days.
“There’s not that much time left that he’s going to be able to do something like this. For me to get it right now is huge; it really means a lot.”
The USGA’s first championship in Utah is over and everybody is ecstatic about the way the week went. The players praised Soldier Hollow and expressed admiration for the area’s beauty. The fans got to see one of the greatest performances in championship history, and the organizers – both local and from the USGA – enjoyed a smoothly run week.
“It was great,” said Bill Walker, the executive director of the Utah Golf Association. “We’re really proud of Utahns in general, the volunteers, the golfers, the course, the course staff. We’re incredibly proud of the effort we put forward behind the scenes to make this championship go.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Jim Harland, general chairman of the championship, and Chris Newson, Soldier Hollow’s head professional.
“Nobody in Utah had ever done this before,” said Newson. “The USGA couldn’t have been any better in terms of telling us exactly what they wanted us to do. And we tried to meet everything they asked us to do.”
For the USGA staff and volunteers on site, the feeling was mutual.
“We came out three years ago with some expectations,” said Bill McCarthy, the director of the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. “Three years later, our expectations were exceeded. The folks here at Soldier Hollow did an unbelievable job.”
In addition, the hundreds of volunteers were an integral component in the championship’s success.
“They were phenomenal,” said McCarthy. “You had more than 300 volunteers in 95-degree heat, blazing sun, no shade. They’re out there spotting balls all week with smiles on their faces.”
Although it took 117 years for the USGA to finally conduct a championship in the Beehive State, the next visit shouldn’t take nearly as long.
“I think we’re anxiously looking forward to another invitation,” said McCarthy.
See You Next Week
Now that Utah has become the 48th state to host a USGA championship, the attention will turn to New Hampshire, which will be the 49th state with the U.S. Junior Amateur, which begins Monday at The Golf Club of New England in Stratham, N.H. By next weekend, Alaska will be the only state not to conduct a USGA championship.
Chelso Barrett, 17, of Keene, N.H., was the runner-up in the 2011 Junior Amateur. He will attempt to improve on last year’s position in front of family and friends. Barrett played in the Public Links and lost to Greg Condon in the first round.
See You Next Year
The host of the 2013 U.S. Amateur Public Links is Laurel Hill Golf Club in Lorton, Va. Laurel Hill’s general manager, Kirk Mason, was at Soldier Hollow all week to study how the championship is conducted.
“I learned a lot,” said Mason. “I feel like I have a good handle on it. We’re about where Soldier Hollow was a year out.
“We’ve been looking forward to this since we opened the facility in October 2005.”
Hunki Yun is a senior writer for the USGA. Contact him at email@example.com.