The Masters is an event that simply transcends sports.
Golf’s most renowned tournament, the only major played at the same course every year, grips the nation’s attention in a way few events can.
One needn’t be a scratch golfer to appreciate the simplistic beauty of the Augusta National Golf Club, or understand the exuberant joy the winner conveys each year.
In all likelihood, Florida senior T.J. Vogel will not be putting on the fabled green jacket awarded to the winner on Sunday.
One of only six amateurs who garnered an invite to the tournament, simply making the cut would make this weeks stay in Augusta an even more memorable one.
Vogel is aware of the long odds he faces to be in contention, and while he hopes to be competitive, he knows how fortunate he is to take the field alongside golf’s best.
“It’s really exciting,” Vogel said. “It’s kind of a dream come true that I have this opportunity.”
Vogel earned his invitation to The Masters by virtue of winning the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship last July. At the time, he was coming off an all-American season at Florida, his first after transferring from USC a year prior.
Although he’s endured a rather pedestrian collegiate season thus far, Vogel is enjoying a privileged week at Augusta National, including a stay at the famed Crow’s Nest — a cramped cupola atop the clubhouse reserved for the tournament’s amateurs.
Jack Nicklaus once stayed at the Crow’s Nest. Tiger Woods did too.
And speaking of Woods, Vogel’s week got off to a nice start when he was invited by the world’s top-ranked golfer to take part in a practice round with he and fellow pro Steve Stricker.
“Playing with Tiger and Stricker was a dream come true,” Vogel tweeted on Sunday.
On Wednesday, Vogel will take part in the popular Par 3 contest before teeing off at 9:28 a.m. Thursday morning.
When Vogel makes his first address on the tee box, his coach Buddy Alexander — along with a slew of family members and friends — will be there.
“I’m excited for T.J., excited to go up there and watch him play a little bit and see what happens,” Alexander said. “I think just playing in a professional tour event, a major in particular, the biggest challenge for him is going to be controlling his nerves and controlling his emotions.
“Everybody goes ‘just go up there and have fun and enjoy yourself,’ but it’s not quite that easy. As a competitor, you want to be competitive. He’s not a principle factor in this event unless he happens to play great the first couple of days, but as a competitor you go into that thing thinking that you are.”
Alexander knows a thing or two about the pressure that comes with playing in The Masters. An amateur champion himself, Alexander twice competed in the tournament, and has coached several former Gators who have played in the event, including Chris DiMarco and Bubba Dickerson — the last Gator to compete as an amateur.
“I don’t really have any expectations of or for him,” Alexander said of Vogel. “He will ultimately have an incredibly enjoyable experience because at the end of the day, he’s going to look back on it with very, very fond memories, even if he doesn’t play as well as he’d like.
“I think anytime you have a player play in The Masters or any major for that matter, it’s a terrific accomplishment for them individually, and kind of a feather in the cap for your program.”
While Vogel first stated that his only goal was to have fun, he later backtracked by saying he also has a goal of being the lowest scoring amateur in the field.
When it comes to the attention placed on the amateurs, Vogel will be playing second fiddle all week to China’s Guan Tianlang, a prodigious fourteen year old who will become the youngest player to ever compete in The Masters.
However, in terms of competing, Vogel’s goal doesn’t appear out of reach, as he’s playing on a course which may suit him well.
“I think it sets up great for me off the tee and into the green,” Vogel said of the Par 72, 7,435-yard course. “I’m a good ball-striker; I just got to make sure I putt and chip the way I know I can.”
Vogel’s caddy for the week will be his father Joe, the head coach for the women’s golf team at FIU.
Vogel and his father have twice attended The Masters as spectators, soaking in the tournament’s atmosphere from behind the ropes.
Being on the inside however, will be a memory that will last both father and son for the rest of their lives.
“How can you not enjoy playing in The Masters as an amateur?” Vogel said.
“I’ve been to The Masters twice just to watch, and to be able to be inside the ropes and playing — it’s too good to be true.”