At U.S. Open: Tech’s Strafaci plays it upbeat amid all high scores

From earlier in the week: Tyler Strafaci (center) tours Shinnecock with a couple select family members. (Photo courtesy the Strafaci family)

When is shooting 78 at a major no reason to come off the course looking like you had just undergone a five-hour session of electroshock?

One case would be Tyler Strafaci, the Georgia Tech junior determined to treat his first swing through the U.S. Open as the cool – a word he regularly pulled from his bag Thursday – experience it is.

While it was a rather grim parade of famous golfers Shinnecock spit out at the end of their day, Strafaci was choosing to go the it’s-all-good route.

“I had a great time,” he said. “I don’t think I got down on myself at all today. I think I had a smile on my face the whole time, even after a double (bogey). Will that be there tomorrow? Who knows? But I’ll try.”

While an 8-over 78 is nothing to enter in the record books, it was on this day good enough to better such luminaries as Jason Day (79) and Rory McIlroy (80). Strafaci tied Jordan Spieth. There was comforting companionship down at his end of the scoreboard.

“How about that?” Strafaci mused.

When just getting here is a notable accomplishment – and the fulfillment of a family legacy – one can afford to have the kind of perspective that isn’t determined solely by a scorecard.

Strafaci is the first current Tech golfer to qualify for the U.S. Open since Matt Kuchar in 1998. In making it through qualifying near his south Florida home, surviving a two-hole playoff in the process, Strafaci figuratively stood on the shoulders of his late grandfather to become the second in his family to compete in the U.S. Open. Frank Strafaci played in three of them, finishing as high as ninth in 1937.

A Brooklyn guy, Frank and his kin also left behind a trail of New York Strafacis who staged an impromptu reunion here on Long Island. More than a dozen walked the course with Tyler on Thursday, in addition to his parents and brother Trent on the bag.

Overcoming nerves, Strafaci striped his opening 2-iron tee shot down the middle Thursday. Then he soon got his first taste of Shinnecock reality. His father, Frank Jr., narrates: “Hit his putt right over the edge, might have been four feet. Now he’s downhill, downwind. Knocked that a couple feet by.”

“The goal today – I knew it was going to be windy – was to not make a double and not to have a three-putt,” Tyler said. “But I kind of did both of those (doubling the 536-yard par-4 14th after driving into the hay).

He could be consoled, his father told him, that he likely never will play a tougher course, in combination with the challenging wind, than Thursday at Shinnecock. “I told him to just try to realize he’s got nothing to lose. If he goes out and plays really well, he can have a big moment. If he plays bad, you just go out and play really well after that. It doesn’t matter. You got nothing to lose,” dad said.

One of 20 amateur players in this U.S. Open field, the most since 1962, Strafaci would have much ground to gain Friday to catch the first-round amateur leaders, two of them six shots ahead.

“I just want to, for however many holes I’ve got left, have a really firm, positive outlook on every shot,” Strafaci said. “Just enjoy the moment.

“I think I handled myself really well. I’m just enjoying the experience. I really can’t get frustrated considering where I came from. It’s kind of a cool thing.”

Upbeat words were as hard to find here Thursday as low numbers. Both really stood out on a day like this.

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