Tech’s Strafaci trying to add to family history at U.S. Am

Georgia Tech golfer Tyler Strafaci.
Georgia Tech golfer Tyler Strafaci.

Credit: Clyde Click

Credit: Clyde Click

There’s a lot of golf history in Tyler Strafaci’s family. He’s just trying to add to it.

Strafaci, who will be a senior this fall at Georgia Tech, has had a breakthrough summer. Two wins during the highly competitive amateur schedule elevated his standing and leave him among the players to watch at next week’s U.S. Amateur Championship at Bandon Dunes.

After the spring college golf season was cancelled because of COVID-19, Strafaci won twice in July. He took the 120th annual North and South Amateur Championship in Pinehurst, N.C., and followed that by winning the 45th Palmetto Amateur in Augusta.

The success wasn’t surprising for Strafaci, who began building momentum in the fall. He had two top-fives and three top-10s in six events before spring sports were shut down.

“I could see I was going in the right direction,” Strafaci said. “The last three or four months, not playing much tournament golf, I worked hard and did the stuff I needed to hit the ground running when it came back. It definitely showed in those two tournaments.”

The Palmetto win certainly was nice – he escaped from trouble on the last hole to win by a shot – but the victory at the North and South was even more meaningful. Strafaci’s grandfather, Frank Strafaci, won the tournament in 1938 and 1939, making them the first grandfather-grandson duo to win the venerable event.

Frank Strafaci built quite a legacy. He won 1935 U.S. Public Links Championship and played in a couple of Masters. He gave up his spot in the 1940 U.S. Open so Ben Hogan could play because he deemed it appropriate that the best player in the world should compete in the national championship. Hogan wound up tied for fifth.

Strafaci lost to Arnold Palmer 1-up in the first round of the 1954 U.S. Amateur, a match Palmer later declared was his toughest of the week during his march to the championship. Strafaci went on to become the executive director of the Florida Golf Association and served as director of golf at the Doral Resort. He is said to have dubbed the course the Blue Monster, a label that has stuck for 60 years.

Strafaci never knew his grandfather, who died in 1988, but he was keenly aware of the family tree. He recalled visiting Pinehurst as a youngster and being shown his grandfather’s locker and seeing the Strafaci name among the long list of impressive champions that includes Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange, Hal Sutton, Davis Love III and Billy Andrade.

Knowing this was going to be his final chance at the North and South – Strafaci will turn professional at the end of the 2021 college season – he chose to enhance the family ties by asking his father, Frank Jr., to be his caddie for the week.

“He had hip replacement surgery and he could barely walk after it, but he really got in shape,” Strafaci said. “He wanted to see if he could walk that much and by the end of the tournament, he was the one walking in front of me, kicking my butt. So it was kind of cool to see that.”

Tyler Strafaci left Wednesday with his family to play in the much-awaited U.S. Amateur. This will be the fourth time he has qualified, and he is trying to keep the event in perspective and prevent it from becoming a monster in his mind.

“The experience is definitely valuable,” he said. “It’s weird to say, but it’s pretty much another golf tournament. And the people who don’t make it into something bigger than it is are going to play well. You could get caught up that it’s the U.S. Am, and there’s a lot riding on the golf tournament, but the truth of the matter is it’s exactly like one of the tournaments we play all year. … You really just have to compartmentalize it and not get ahead of yourself because if you want to be there for a while, you’ve got to be on a pretty even keel.”

The U.S. Amateur begins with 18 holes of stroke play Monday and Tuesday at Bandon Dunes and Bandon Trails, with the low 64 qualifying for the match-play portion at Bandon Dunes. Strafaci reached match play in 2017 and 2018, but hasn’t gotten past the second round.

When it’s over, Strafaci will return to Tech for a final season. He had planned to turn pro after the season, but the NCAA gave all seniors the option to return for one more year. Strafaci thought about it and opted to return.

“Stuff changed, and I didn’t really like how the season ended,” he said. “Me and Coach (Bruce Heppler) talked and some people around me, and we decided it was in my best interest to come back for another year. I’m looking forward to it. It’s been fun here.”

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