When former Georgia Tech standout Tyler Strafaci was a sophomore in high school, his father secured tickets to come to Augusta National and watch the Masters.
However, Strafaci decided he wanted nothing to do with the trip.
That same week, Strafaci committed to the Yellow Jackets. When coach Bruce Heppler found out his future player was going to bypass an opportunity of seeing one of the greatest golf courses and the top players in the world, the coach gave Strafaci and earful.
“Are you going to the Masters?” Heppler asked.
“No, I’m going to wait till I play in the golf tournament,” Strafaci said.
“That’s probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” Heppler replied.
Strafaci attended that tournament, and true to his word, this week he will get to play in it. Strafaci comes into the 85th Masters as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion after winning it last August at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon. He is one of only three amateurs in the field, joining England’s Joe Long, the British Amateur champion, and Ollie Osborne, the U.S. Amateur runner-up. It is the fewest number of amateurs to ever compete in the Masters, because the U.S. Mid-Amateur, the Asia-Pacific Amateur and the Latin American Amateur were all canceled because of COVID-19. Strafaci will be playing with defending champion Dustin Johnson and Lee Westwood when the tournament begins on Thursday, and Strafaci said he plans to turn pro after competing in the Walker Cup matches next month at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Florida. That will add an event to his family’s legacy that his grandfather Frank Strafaci Sr. desperately wanted to compete in.
Frank Strafaci became an elite amateur play in the 1930s, winning the U.S. Public Links title in 1935 and then finished ninth in the 1937 U.S. Open.
He played his first Masters in 1938 and made a decision in the middle of the tournament that very few if any current players would consider. He withdrew after the tournament began to defend his title in the North and South Amateur because he thought it would better his chances to make that elusive Walker Cup team.
“It just shows how different the tournament has changed over the years where my grandfather actually withdrew from the Masters to play in a tournament other than the Masters,” Tyler Strafaci said. “If I did that, I don’t think I would ever be invited back.”
Frank Strafaci made it back to the Masters in 1950. He played all four rounds, shot 77-82-84-81 and finished in 58th place. His player’s badge is one of the few things remaining with the family from his Augusta experience. Tyler Strafaci said the badge is kept in his father’s office, and it is cared for with a strict do-not-touch policy.
Well, almost do-not-touch.
“I’ve gone there and touched it a few times,” Tyler Strafaci said.
After completing his golf career, Frank Strafaci became the director of golf and Doral and had an opportunity to meet some of the all-time greats of the game and the sports world, including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Babe Zaharias, Mickey Mantle and Joe Dimaggio.
Tyler Strafaci now gets the opportunity to pick the brains of Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, in addition to other Georgia Tech standouts in the field like Matt Kuchar, Stewart Cink and 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize.
After Tyler Strafaci turns pro, he will then try to equal and surpass his grandfather’s accomplishment of playing in two Masters. But until then, he wants to make sure he is taking everything in.
“This will be my only time playing the Masters as an amateur, so I’m going to use every bit of it,” Strafaci said. “I’m just going to be 22 years old and just have a good time.”