Since winning the U.S. Amateur, Tyler Strafaci has taken the Havemeyer Trophy nearly everywhere he’s gone: restaurants, golf courses, Georgia Tech’s alumni tournament.
“It’s been to some pretty cool places,” Strafaci said, “and it’s going to keep going to some pretty cool places.”
The Georgia Tech fifth-year senior, thanks to his victory over SMU’s Ollie Osborne last August at Bandon Dunes, has quite the schedule lined up for the first half of the new year. He’ll play in two majors, the Masters in April and the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in June, and is exempt into the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Genesis Invitational, RBC Heritage, Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial and Memorial Tournament. He’s also already on the U.S. Walker Cup team, which will compete in early May at Seminole.
“The Am really sets me up for the future if I play well,” Strafaci said. “This is what I’ve dreamt of doing as a kid, having these opportunities.”
Of course, Strafaci’s impending busy schedule playing against the pros required him to make at least one difficult decision. The reigning All-American will not compete for coach Bruce Heppler and the Yellow Jackets this spring, capping a four-plus-year career that included 10 top-10s and a victory at the Valspar Collegiate his freshman year. (That win got him into the 2018 Valspar Championship, the same year that he qualified for the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.)
“It obviously was a little tough when I told [Coach Heppler] I wasn’t coming back for the spring, but he knows it’s a tough time and stuff can just get taken away from you in college golf like it did last year,” Strafaci said. “I’d rather kind of take my health and safety and all the stuff with this virus in my own hands a little bit more.”
Strafaci will wait, however, to turn professional. The Walker Cup isn’t just the pinnacle of amateur golf, but it’s an event that has eluded Strafaci’s family, one of rich golf history, for decades. Strafaci’s grandfather, Frank Sr., was an amateur legend, most notably winning the 1935 U.S. Amateur Public Links and two North and South Amateurs, but he never made a Walker Cup team. Strafaci’s dad, Frank Jr., also was an accomplished amateur player, though never made a U.S. team, either.
“It will be a pretty validating experience for the Strafaci family,” said Strafaci, who last month was among 16 players who took part in the U.S. Walker Cup practice session, held in Orlando at Lake Nona Country Club and Bay Hill, where Strafaci will likely make his first PGA Tour start of the year. From there, he’ll play the Masters and possibly the RBC Heritage as an amateur, and then get ready for the Walker Cup.
After Seminole, Strafaci can turn pro and accept up to seven sponsor exemptions, not including the starts he’ll receive for winning the U.S. Amateur (he gets up to 12 total starts as a non-member). A new rule also will let him play the U.S. Open as a pro.
This week, Strafaci is shaking off the winter rust at the Big Money Golf Classic in Lake Mary, Florida. He shot 1-under 71 Monday at Heathrow Country Club.
“Honestly, I’m trying to learn from each tournament and get better,” Strafaci said. “My goal is by the last tournament I play this year in my limited starts that I feel like I have a really good chance of winning each tournament I play in. But again, take it one day at a time, learn a lot, get some humility and work hard.”
Strafaci has leaned on several people for advice through this process, including former Georgia Tech standout Bryce Molder.
“He’s another person I owe everything to,” Strafaci said. “He’s helping me learn how to deal with expectations going forward. I honestly feel free out there. It’s cool to be the U.S. Am champ, but I’m still Tyler.”