Even after committing to USC as a high school senior, T.J. Vogel took an official visit to the University of Florida. "Just in case something happened," Vogel recalled Thursday.
Turns out, something did happen. And Vogel appears to be thriving in a new environment.
Vogel won his first event of the spring season, taking the individual title at the Sea Best Invitational (formerly the JU Invitational) at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass by two shots, while leading the Gators to their second win of the 2011-12 season. The junior had finished the fall with three consecutive top-10 appearances.
Following a disappointing sophomore year in Los Angeles, Vogel transferred during the summer to Gainesville, which was the lifelong Florida resident's second choice out of high school. He said he was close to attending Florida initially, explaining the official visit he took at the end of his recruitment.
For Gators coach Buddy Alexander, he's just thankful to finally have Vogel on campus. "He's been a joy to work with so far and an unbelievably significant contributor to our program," said Alexander, in his 24th year at Florida, "and I don't know where we'd be without him, to be honest."
It's working out for Vogel just as well.
The Cooper City, Fla., native doesn't regret his two years at USC--he's actually glad he struggled a bit because he can see how learning to overcome adversity has helped him on the golf course.
Vogel saw his game take off immediately after arriving home this summer. Vogel qualified for this summer's U.S. Amateur and hit the ground running in the fall, with a T-15 finish at Olympia Fields followed by a T-2, T-3 and T-8 at Inverness, Kiawah Island and Isleworth.
The transition to Florida has been seamless for Vogel, who says he regained his confidence on the course thanks largely to working a lot over the summer with his father, Joe, the women's coach at Florida International, who has been T.J.'s golf instructor forever.
When he was at USC, T.J. was thousands of miles away from his father for the first time, Joe being unable to watch his son play on a regular basis and offer advice.
"After having a tough spring, just being surrounded by my dad and the positivity helped me right off the bat," Vogel said. "The huge difference is the environment here is super positive. Buddy's always giving me positive reinforcement after a bad round or a bad shot … He's constantly reminding me how good I am."
Vogel and Alexander maintained a good relationship while at USC, talking at tournaments when they'd run into each other. He's thankful for taking the official visit to Gainesville, which let him see the option that presented itself close to home.
"It's working out perfectly," Vogel said. "[Buddy and I] have a lot of things in common. Like the way we think, we always seem to be on the same page."
Making T.J.'s transition even easier was having one of his best friends, junior Tyler McCumber, on the UF team. The duo, the Gators' top performers so far this season, push each other during practice rounds and drills.
Vogel's been a mentor to his younger teammates, too. He talks about how gratifying it's been to see freshman__Eric Banks__, a former hockey player, record two top-20 finishes this season.
"There's no question, [T.J.]'s a quiet leader, and he works on his game meticulously," Alexander said. "That's easily seen and that rubs off."
And Vogel's confident he can build off his success in his home state.
"I worked extremely hard on my game in the offseason, and it's good to see that paying off," he said. "I didn't really take any time off, and ultimately it came out with the best result I've seen."