U.S. JUNIOR AMATEUR
Strafaci Carrying On Family Golf Tradition July 20, 2015 | Bluffton, S.C. By David Shefter, USGA

Tyler Strafaci carries quite a USGA pedigree into this week's U.S. Junior Amateur at Colleton River Plantation Club. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

Entering the locker room at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club prior to the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship a few years ago, Tyler Strafaci noticed a familiar name.

“He knew who it was,” said his father, Frank.

Frank Strafaci Sr., Tyler’s grandfather, won consecutive North & South Amateur titles in 1938 and 1939, and as a tribute, the resort created a Strafaci locker.

And that’s only the start of the elder Strafaci’s golf accomplishments. Frank Sr. also won the 1935 U.S. Amateur Public Links, seven Metropolitan Golf Association Amateurs, competed in two U.S. Opens (finished ninth in 1937 at Oakland Hills), two Masters and numerous U.S. Amateurs, including a quarterfinal showing in 1949.

In the 1954 U.S. Amateur at Detroit Golf Club, Strafaci lost to a relatively unknown player from Western Pennsylvania in the first round. Arnold Palmer posted a 1-up victory and went on to win the title to launch a Hall-of-Fame career. He later said his opening-round match was his toughest of the championship.

After retiring from competitive golf, Strafaci became the executive director of the Florida State Golf Association and eventually the director of golf for the Doral Resort, where he also served as the tournament director for the annual PGA Tour stop. According to several articles, it is Strafaci who is credited for coming up with the “Blue Monster” moniker for the layout.

All of this history isn’t lost on Tyler, who was born 10 years after Frank Sr. passed away in February 1988.

“All of his accomplishments are amazing,” said Tyler, who is competing in his first USGA championship this week in the 68th U.S. Junior Amateur at Colleton River Plantation Club’s Dye Course. “My dad has told me a lot of stories about him. I’ve seen a lot of pictures. From everything I know about him, he was such a great man.”

While Tyler, who turns 17 on Thursday, never met his grandfather, plenty of memorabilia remains in their Davie, Fla., residence. Clippings, photos, medals and trophies offer glimpses into Frank Sr.’s remarkable career. Of the five golfing Strafaci brothers from Brooklyn, N.Y., Frank Sr. is the most decorated.

His national breakthrough came with a 37-hole victory over Joe Coria in the 1935 APL at Coffin Municipal Golf Course in Indianapolis. After finishing ninth in the 1937 U.S. Open, Strafaci received an invitation to the 1938 Masters, where he withdrew after the third round in order to play in the North & South Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2, which he won.

Frank Strafaci (right) won the 1935 U.S. Amateur Public Links. His grandson, Tyler, is competing in his first USGA event this week. (USGA Museum)

Tyler’s father still has the medal he received from the 1937 U.S. Open. He also dug up a photograph from the Tufts Library at Pinehurst showing Frank Sr. receiving the North & South trophy from Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the former Major League Baseball commissioner who banned eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox in the infamous “Black Sox” gambling scandal.

He also still has a wooden plaque given to each year’s North & South Amateur champion, whose past winners include the likes of Walter Travis, Francis Ouimet, Charles “Chick” Evans, Jack Nicklaus, Davis Love III and Curtis Strange.

“My dad didn’t talk a lot about his accomplishments,” said the younger Frank Strafaci, a former president of the FSGA. “He talked mostly about the people he met in golf. He lived an unbelievably rich life; the paths he crossed. He never turned pro because amateur golf was how you elevated yourself back then.”

This history is not lost on Tyler, who has researched his past and heard the stories from his father and mother, Jill, an accomplished golfer herself. Jill Strafaci (née Repulski) competed in two U.S. Girls’ Juniors (1973 and 1975) and played for the University of Florida in the mid-1970s. While competing in the 1973 Girls’ Junior at Somerset Hills Country Club in Bernardsville, N.J., she visited the USGA Museum at Golf House in nearby Far Hills and recalled seeing a club used by Frank Strafaci to win the 1935 APL. She met Frank Jr. at a junior golf tournament prior to enrolling at Florida.

“He was always laughing and telling stories,” said Jill, who served as the Miami Dolphins’ chief financial officer for 20-plus years. “He was a very happy man.”

Now it’s Tyler who carries on the family golf tradition. But it wasn’t always that way. When he was 6, Tyler was entered in an FSGA Parent-Child event in Orlando, Fla. On the first hole of their initial practice round, Tyler walked off the course, saying it was too hot to play. Tyler eventually relented and the two would go to a playoff for the 6-8 division title. Tyler had an 18-inch putt to win it and his dad instructed him to just tap the short downhill putt into the hole. Tyler came up short and they lost on the next hole.

After playing with his older son, Trent, that afternoon in another division, Frank thought Tyler might be distraught over the loss. Tyler instead blamed his father.

Both now laugh about the incident.

It’s all part of their friendly competitive banter. Days before arriving at the U.S. Junior Amateur, Tyler shared medalist honors at a U.S. Amateur qualifier in Coral Springs, Fla. He immediately bragged to his dad that he was younger than he was when he qualified for his first of three U.S. Amateurs in 1975. “And I told him I was the youngest in the field that year,” said Frank, who also has qualified for four U.S. Mid-Amateurs.

When Tyler competes at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club next month, he will be a third-generation U.S. Amateur competitor.

“I traveled with Mike Donald to the Country Club of Virginia [for the 1975 U.S. Amateur],” said Frank, recalling his first USGA event. “He was older but from the same area. My dad didn’t even bother coming. I was pretty independent. I walked into the pro shop to check in and after leaving I see the 10th tee, and there’s Curtis Strange, Jerry Haas and Keith Fergus teeing off. I’m like … Whoa!”

Earlier this summer, none of this appeared possible for Tyler after he suffered a stress fracture in his heel at the American Junior Golf Association’s Thunderbird Invitational over Memorial Day weekend. Although placed in a walking boot for four weeks, he was able to practice his short game. By the time he could walk and compete again, he posted a first-round 63 in the Future Masters in Dothan, Ala. Then he qualified for the U.S. Junior and U.S. Amateur within a two-week period.

“They want me to treat it like any other tournament,” said Tyler when asked about any advice he has received from his parents about playing in a USGA championship. He carded a 2-over 74 in Monday's first round of stroke play. “It’s a really big tournament. It all comes down to me preparing and playing my best. My dad has given me some advice on where to miss it and putting emphasis on hitting fairways.”

During a practice round on Saturday, Tyler aced the sixth hole with a 7-iron from 182 yards. That kind of ball-striking isn’t lost on Trent, his caddie. “He can hit every shot,” said Trent, who attends Nova Southeastern University, but doesn’t play on the golf team.

Tyler, a rising senior, also played on a high school team at the American Heritage School in Plantation that included University of Florida signees Jorge Garcia and Kristian Caparros (turned pro). Another player, Matt Mourin, signed with Rutgers. So it’s not surprising the team won the 2014 Florida State 2A title by 39 strokes, four off the record. The 2012 state title team featured five players who would all receive Division I scholarships.

Being thrust into that kind of competitive environment only fueled Strafaci to improve, and colleges took notice of his burgeoning talent. Florida, Wake Forest, Auburn and Georgia Tech all showed interest. He chose Georgia Tech due to  its rich golf tradition and strong academic reputation.

All of which would have made Frank Strafaci Sr. one proud grandfather. Seeing all these elite juniors, including Tyler, at Colleton River this week would have brought a wide smile to his face.

“He would have loved this,” said Frank Jr.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.