by Joan Birsh
It’s a safe bet that on August 16 at 7 p.m., Ocean Reef Club Members (many of them at their summer homes all over the country) were tuned into the Golf Channel for the finals of the U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes, OR.
These TV viewers had a special interest in this brilliant seesaw match. They were hoping against hope that their 23-year-old fellow OR Member Tyler Strafaci would defeat Ollie Osborne and become Golf’s 2020 U.S. Amateur Champion.
Tyler, a Georgia Tech senior, played all 36 tension-filled holes in the final match with skill, smarts and composure. (More composure than many of his OR fans, some of whom had to resort to nail biting, breath holding, and the infusion of a double scotch whiskey.)
In the end everybody won. Especially Tyler, who earned a place on the Walker Cup team and an invitation to the prodigious Masters Tournament in Augusta… He also got to take home the Havemeyer trophy.
Golf for Tyler Strafaci was generational. In 1935 at age 19 his grandfather, Frank Strafaci Sr. won the U.S. Amateur Public Links, followed by other amateur championships in the 1930’s through the mid-50’s.
He captured the North and South amateur championship twice –1938 and ’39. (His grandson Tyler, following in his footsteps, was the 2020 winner.)
Though Frank Sr. died before Tyler was born, he has remained a cherished family legend and inspiration for the aspiring young golfer.
Then, of course, there was the living legend, Tyler’s dad Frank Strafaci Jr., an accomplished golfer in his own right, with three U.S. Amateur starts.
Frank Jr. has been a major factor in his son’s career, serving as his caddy in the North and South at Pinehurst and the U.S. Amateur at Brandon Dunes.
Of special importance to this story, Frank Strafaci Jr. was the winner of the Ocean Reef Club Championship four years in a row from 2008 to 2011. His name is on the board in our ORC Golf Clubhouse.
No one was surprised that Tyler shared his father’s intense interest in golf. At an early age it was apparent he was destined to become an enormously talented golfer.
Scott Kirkwood, Director of Golf at Ocean Reef, remembers being mightily impressed with the beautiful golf swing of 11-year-old Tyler, when he played the Dolphin Course with his dad and brother. (As an aside, some years later Tyler and his brother Trent won the Club’s annual Jan.1 Hangover Open.)
This spring Scott Kirkwood had many opportunities to observe up close how Tyler’s swing had progressed.
When Tyler’s home club of Grande Oaks in Ft. Lauderdale (the Strafaci’s live in nearby Davie, FL) closed down because of the pandemic, Tyler practiced almost every day in March on the links at Ocean Reef. Some of the OR pros and a few lucky Members like Bill Tweardy had a chance to play a round with him. “He’s a really wonderful young man,” reported Bill. “He played from the gold tees on the Dolphin and shot 4 or 5 under.”
The Climax. There were many agonizing moments when a happy ending at the U.S. Amateur seemed uncertain.
Tied with Osborne going into the 18th Hole, the tension was palpable for all of us watching on TV. Imagine what it must have been for Tyler’s mother Jill (who, as CFO of the Miami Dolphins, was certainly no stranger to tension) and his father Frank Jr., who served as his caddy for the entire tournament.
And, of course, for Tyler himself, who claims before teeing off he closed his eyes and said to himself, “This is your time to hit a winning shot. Go get it.”
And he did!