This article first ran in the Aug. 28, 2017 edition of Global Golf Post
No matter the tournament, Tyler Strafaci is sought out by someone wanting to tell him about his grandfather.
Tyler never met Frank Strafaci Sr., but if stories can keep people alive, the two might as well be best friends.There was the time in the 1938 Masters when Strafaci did something no able-bodied player would fathom doing today: He withdrew after the third round to go play the North & South Amateur, which he promptly won. He successfully defended his title the following year, and now has a locker named after him inside the clubhouse at Pinehurst.
And then there was the first-round match of the 1954 U.S. Amateur when he lost, 1 down, to a paint salesman who recently had finished a three-year stint in the U.S. Coast Guard. That man, Arnold Palmer, went on to win the tournament and seven major championships.
And who could forget when Strafaci later became the director of golf at Doral and nicknamed Dick Wilson’s most notorious layout the “Blue Monster,” a name that sticks to this very day?
“Every single picture I see of him, he’s standing with Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer or Jackie Gleason or Joe DiMaggio or Mickey Mantle,” Tyler Strafaci said. “He used to pick up Nicklaus from the airport for the Doral Open and Jack would have dinner with the family. My grandfather was almost like a celebrity.”
The legend of the Strafaci name doesn’t begin and end with Frank, a lifelong amateur who dominated Brooklyn-area competition and eventually settled in Florida.
Their family tree is built with golf tees.
Frank Strafaci Jr. played collegiately at the University of Florida and qualified for three U.S. Amateurs. He married another golfer, Jill, who also played for the Gators and participated in two U.S. Girls’ Juniors.
Living in the town of Davie, just to the west of Fort Lauderdale, they had a son, Tyler, who at age 19 is a sophomore at Georgia Tech and may end up being better than them all.
Earlier this month, with his brother on the bag, Tyler reached the round of 32 at the U.S. Amateur by defeating U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up Matt Wolff. In an epic match that followed, Strafaci was 5 down to eventual semifinalist Mark Lawrence Jr. through six holes, but battled to be 1 up with two holes remaining before losing Nos. 17 and 18 to end a memorable run at Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles.
Even so, the experience far outweighed the sting of losing a stomach-twisting duel. His grandfather’s spirit couldn’t help but smile.
“After knowing we had made match play, I remember my father came up to me and just his reaction toward me after that made me realize how special it was,” Strafaci said.
This isn’t the only signal that Strafaci could be exceptional. His freshman year as a Yellow Jacket included a key victory at the Valspar Collegiate, giving him an exemption into the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship next March at Innisbrook, near Tampa. He finished third on the Tech team with a scoring average an eyelash north of 72.
From there, the summer of 2017 has been perhaps even better. He finished tied for fifth at the Trans-Miss, reached the semifinals of the North & South Amateur, and won the U.S. Amateur sectional qualifier in Miami Beach.
All of this comes after six years of varsity golf at American Heritage School in Plantation, where he began playing as an seventh-grader and eventually earned an individual state championship in 2015 and team state titles in 2012 and 2014. He was unanimously considered the top-ranked player in Florida for the high school class of 2016, and the auspicious start to his collegiate career seems to validate that.
How did he develop so impressively? Everything starts and ends with family.
“Growing up, my dad was always very understanding,” Strafaci said. “He worked with me every day after school. Our relationship is just unreal and we became really good friends from it.
“My mom had a bigger time commitment with her job (a financial executive for the Miami Dolphins), but when I couldn’t drive, she was always the one who picked me up and brought me to the course.”
In a sense, it’s not just Tyler Strafaci accomplishing all of these feats; he’s climbing an oak tree on top of the roots those before him have anchored down. His grandfather would be proud, while pushing him to test his limits.
“Being the competitor that he is, he would probably tell me to get a bunch better,” Tyler said. “He would give me a lot of advice about how to handle stuff. There is a lot of my grandfather in my father.”
There is a lot of his grandfather in Tyler, too.
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