The last time Tyler Strafaci was in San Diego, he was playing the Junior World Championship – a long-running junior event at Torrey Pines. Strafaci, now 22, wasn’t even a teenager then.
“I remember I walked with my dad out on the South Course after the tournament had finished, and just such a special place,” Strafaci said on the eve of the Farmers Insurance Open, which he’s playing as an amateur. “It’s beautiful. It’s very scenic”
Strafaci has had a lot of memorable walks with his dad Frank this year. A seven-day jaunt around Bandon Dunes in August is ultimately what got him back here. The Strafacis carted home the Havemeyer Trophy that week and as a U.S. Amateur champion, doors began to open.
Strafaci has made PGA Tour starts before. He focused intently on the cut and missed it at the 2018 Valspar Championship and U.S. Open. He was 19 then, and vastly less experienced. He bagged three major amateur titles this summer and has since closed out a career at Georgia Tech. Admittedly, Strafaci feels freed up as the U.S. Amateur champion.
Still, it’s a different arena.
“Usually I play golf to win and put myself in position on the last day of the tournament to have a good chance to win,” he said. “That’s kind of what I’m going to do this week. I’m sure there’s going to be some growing pains. Winning out here’s going to take a lot better golf than winning in college or amateur golf. So I’m going to learn how to do that and hopefully I can learn how to do that very quickly so I can accomplish the goals.”
There is no formula or guidebook for turning professional. When is the time right? Only the player can say. But Strafaci won’t cross that invisible threshold until after he checks a box very important to his family.
It has been well-documented that Strafaci’s grandfather Frank, also a USGA champion after winning the 1935 U.S. Amateur Public Links, never was selected to play on the U.S. Walker Cup team. But Tyler played his way onto the squad by winning the U.S. Amateur. He’ll remain amateur through the matches May 8-9 at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida. A start in the Masters sits in between here and there.
“I definitely want to be the first Strafaci to play on the Walker Cup and that’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid,” he said.
Strafaci originally returned to Georgia Tech to take advantage of a fifth year granted after the end of his senior year was wiped out because of COVID. The ACC was not allowed to compete in golf in the fall, and Strafaci decided not to return in the spring.
It was a tough conversation with head coach Bruce Heppler, especially given that teammates Andy Ogletree and Luke Schniederjans were out the door, too. It was a formidable threesome that would have made Georgia Tech a favorite for a postseason run.
“He thought it was best that I would come back,” Strafaci said of Heppler. “He kind of wanted me to be there for the young guys, but at the same time I think he knew I was ready. So I know he was proud of me for the decision I made and I know he’s in my corner. I love the guy to death.”
Strafaci will likely have more Tour exemptions come his way as U.S. Am champ, and also could still tee it up in high-level amateur events to stay sharp. Asked the likelihood that he might show up in an event like the Jones Cup, where many players will make a run at being his Walker Cup teammate, or the Azalea Amateur, which often serves as a tune-up for amateurs playing the Masters, Strafaci didn’t totally rule out the latter.
Strafaci, a native of Davie, Florida, is now based out of Ft. Lauderdale. Arguably the best part of that location is his proximity to Seminole. Strafaci has found himself playing alongside Walker Cup captain Nathaniel Crosby.
“I’ve probably played five rounds there since I finished – since I knew I was playing on the team, so I’ve gotten some good prep,” he said. “It helps that it’s about an hour drive. We have some sort of in and out privileges where I can go there once a week and do some prep work, so I’m going to be ready for that tournament.”