AUGUSTA - It hit Tyler Strafaci just where he was – twice.
The first time was Monday night when he stayed in the Crow’s Nest atop the Augusta National clubhouse. He had a few beers and smoked a cigar. Quite the smile on the face of the 22-year-old amateur getting ready to play in the Masters.
The second time was Thursday afternoon when Strafaci found the water off the tee on the par-3 No. 12 during the opening round. He took a seven on the dastardly little hole that put him at 7 over par. He finished the first round at 8-over-par 80. Still, an ear-to-ear smile on the face of reigning U.S. Amateur champion from Georgia Tech.
“I’m an amateur playing at Augusta National, and I’m the happiest kid in the world right now,” Strafaci said, a mere minutes after walking off the 18th green. “I don’t care what I shot today. Obviously would’ve liked to play better, but it was great.”
Strafaci bogeyed No. 3 and remained 1 over until the first of his two truly troublesome holes. He overshot the green on No. 9. His chip rolled on, around the flag, down the slope and off the green. His second chip rested 25 feet from the cup, and two putts later he had a double-bogey and was 3 over.
Yes, the greens are playing hard and fast at Augusta National to open the Masters. Of No. 9 green, Brooks Koepka lamented, “I don’t know if there is grass (on it.)”
“I knew where I was there was no chance I was making par,” Strafaci said. “Yeah, that was my mistake. It’s just stuff like that when it’s firm and fast that you experience. It’s just you hit a shot, and you know right away that you’re dead.”
A bogey at No. 10 put Strafaci at 4 over at No. 12. His tee there shot found the water – an outcome Strafaci knew right away. His second found the front bunker. When it was all said and done, he took a triple bogey. A final bogey at No. 14 was his fifth blemish of the day. He parred every other hole.
“Oh, I just hit a God-awful shot,” Strafaci said. “I tried to hit like a skinny cut up there, and I hit a steep push cut in the water. It’s just when the wind is blowing like that you kind of -- I didn’t trust my number. I saw DJ (playing partner and defending champion Dustin Johnson) hit the same club I did, and I just didn’t trust it because I know he’s way longer than I am.
“Yeah, looking forward to burning that hole tomorrow.”
Someone bottle the optimism of the youth.
Strafaci returns for his second round Friday. He has a lot of ground to make up. However, then it’s on to the Walker Cup in May for his final appearance as an amateur.
In the meantime, he is going to enjoy where he is and what he is doing.
“I don’t know how I didn’t have a heart attack just walking (to the first tee),” Strafaci said. “… What calmed me down was seeing my friends and family and giving me a hug before I went off. I understood that it’s just golf, and I just reminded myself just go out and have a fun time.”