Tyler Strafaci has little spare time these days. He’s too busy going places.
To the Masters, where he played last month as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, becoming one of the first grandfather-grandson combinations to compete in the hallowed championship.
To the Walker Cup at Seminole Golf Club this month (May 8-9), where he will represent the United States in amateur golf’s version of the Ryder Cup.
And, soon, to the professional ranks – the 22-year-old Strafaci will turn pro after the Walker Cup and start living his dream of playing golf for a living.
This is an important time in the longtime Davie resident’s life, one helped hugely by his victory in last fall’s U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes.
“That tournament pretty much changed my life, with all the opportunities that came up and all the tournaments I’m getting in,” Strafaci said. “It’s one of those things in my life I’ll look back on as a turning point. But it will only be a turning point if I take advantage of it.”
“He didn’t dominate junior golf, collegiate golf or amateur golf right away. But once he figured it out, the kid always rose to the top.”
Instructor Todd Anderson
It’s difficult to tell Strafaci’s story without bringing up his family:
His grandfather, Frank Sr., won the 1935 U.S. Amateur Public Links and was champion of the North and South Amateur in 1938 and 1939. Frank played twice in the Masters, in 1938 and 1950, and finished ninth at the 1937 U.S. Open. He went on to become director of golf at Doral in Miami in 1960 and is credited with dubbing the course used for the longtime PGA Tour event as the “Blue Monster.” Tyler never got to meet his grandfather, who died 10 years before he was born.
His father, Frank Jr., an accomplished amateur golfer who qualified for seven USGA championships, won six Florida State Golf Association events and served as the FSGA’s president in 1997. Frank Jr. caddied for Tyler at last year’s U.S. Amateur and when his son won the North and South, completing another grandfather-grandson double.
His mother, Jill, who played collegiately at the University of Florida, as well as in four LPGA Tour events.
She was the only player on her collegiate team who didn’t turn professional, but her career still took her to professional sports – she became chief financial officer of the Miami Dolphins, one of few women at the time to assume a high-ranking role in the NFL who wasn’t related to an owner.
While the media rightly focused on Tyler following in his grandfather’s footsteps at the Masters, and Frank Jr. has had a visible role as his son’s caddie at his two biggest victories, it is Jill who behind the scenes has helped shape Tyler’s life and career.
“She has had as much influence on my golf as my father, if not more,” Tyler said during a Walker Cup media day at Seminole last month. “From middle school to senior high, she was the one who every day would take me to the golf course so I could practice. She’s more like me than I am like my father. More laid back.”
When told of her son’s comments, Jill was stunned.
“Wow!” she said. “Maybe it’s because of my career and how I had a pretty good and long career and still raised two great kids (older brother Trent also played at UF). Tyler has respect for working women. He always looks at me for advice.”
Tyler could use plenty of advice these days as he’s about to embark on one of the most difficult jobs in life – playing golf for a living. There are no home games, teammates or guaranteed contracts in this sport. Only one out of roughly 144 players feels the elation of winning every week, the rest going home to lick their wounds.
“It’s not an easy life. What they do is pretty daunting,” his father said. “He’ll have his struggles, but Tyler learns by doing. He’s a smart kid (he graduated with honors from Georgia Tach last December), but sometimes he makes it a little harder on himself than he needs to.
“The hardest thing is sometimes he goes in with unreasonable expectations and if he doesn’t play well, there’s a lot of disappointment. That’s draining. I tell him there’s nothing wrong with having expectations that aren’t quite as lofty and exceeding them.”
No doubt Tyler’s expectations are fueled by his amateur success and how well young pros such as Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Matthew Wolff and Will Zalatoris have had recently on the PGA Tour. Time waits for no one, especially in professional golf.
“It’s all about feeling comfortable in the moment,” Tyler said. “I’ve wanted to turn pro for a couple of years, but I didn’t really think I had proven to myself I could make a living. Winning the U.S. Am … you know you have beaten the best amateurs in the world.”
Tyler played in two other PGA Tour events this year, missing the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open and grudgingly withdrawing from the Genesis Invitational when he displaced several ribs and bruised his sternum while hitting a shot out of the Barranca during the first round. Tyler was heading to the first tee in the second round when father and son had a spirited conversation.
“I told him there’s not another professional here who would try to play in the condition he was in,” Frank said.
“I like to finish what I start,” said Tyler, who finally relented.
Top instructor Todd Anderson, who has worked with Strafaci since he was 13, said it’s hard to predict how difficult Tyler’s transition to a professional will be when he takes the first of his seven sponsor exemptions at the AT&T Byron Nelson. Anderson agrees with his father that one of the keys is not to expect too much too soon.
“If you look at his history, he hasn’t come out and dominated right away,” Anderson said. “He didn’t dominate junior golf, collegiate golf or amateur golf right away. But once he figured it out, the kid always rose to the top.
“He loves pressure. He enjoys having the opportunity to win and he’s not afraid of the big moment. He likes that situation, which a lot of people shy away from. He wants the ball at the end of the game.”
Before he starts playing for a living, Tyler gets to check off another life-changing box when he represents his country at the Walker Cup.
“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid,” he said. “Now that I am here, it’s pretty sweet.”
Veteran teammate Stewart Hagestad was asked what advice he would give to Strafaci at the Walker Cup. Hagestad no doubt remembered he lost to Strafaci in last year’s U.S. Amateur quarterfinals when he shook his head.
“He doesn’t need any,” Hagestad said. “He’s a good golfer, but he’s such a mature person, and that comes from both his parents.”
Now it’s time for Tyler to go out on his own. Time to start what he hopes to finish.