Bandon, Ore. – Surviving his fourth straight match that went the distance, Georgia Tech’s Tyler Strafaci joined the names of his teammate, 2019 champion Andy Ogletree, and Yellow Jacket legends Bobby Jones and Matt Kuchar on the Havemeyer Trophy, outlasting SMU junior Charles “Ollie” Osborne 1-up Sunday night in the 36-hole championship match of the 120 United States Amateur Championship.
Just a few months after the Covid-19 pandemic scuttled the spring golf season and forced a change in his plans to turn pro, Strafaci duplicated the feat of his classmate Ogletree, who accomplished last August at Pinehurst, N.C., winning amateur golf’s most important championship. The 22-year-old Tech senior’s captured his third major win this summer, coming on the heels of victories at the North & South Amateur on July 4 and the Palmetto Amateur a week later. He will return to Georgia Tech for a fifth year in 2020-21 as a three-time All-East Region and two-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference performer.
The U.S. Amateur championship comes with a berth in the 2021 Open Championship in addition to an exemption into the 2021 U.S. Open and a potential invitation to the 2021 Masters that go with reaching the semifinals. Strafaci also will get a position on the United States team for the 2021 Walker Cup next May 8-9 at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla., not far from his home. He is the second member of his own family to win a United States Golf Association title, joining his grandfather, Frank, who won the 1935 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.
“These are very trying times, tough for every … there's not one person in this world that it hasn't affected negatively, and it's really tough,” said Strafaci. “I wanted to be one of the people that got through this and approached it with a positive outlook, and it still has -- our college golf season got canceled. It sucked. It was one of the worst -- I remember going to Coach and I was bawling my eyes out. It affected everyone. But I tried to approach it with a positive outlook, like my dad said, he said, use this as a time to get better, and I did, and I capitalized, and right now I'm in a really good position to start my career.”
Strafaci’s win also gives Georgia Tech the distinction of being the first collegiate golf program to have two different team members win the U.S. Amateur in back-to-back years.
But his run to the title was not without considerable drama; Strafaci won his final four matches 1-up. After concluding his first two matches in the U.S. Amateur without playing the par-5 18 hole, Strafaci survived unusual circumstances on the hole and came up with big shots of his own.
In Sunday’s final, the Yellow Jacket senior came to the final hole tied again after watching Osborne birdie the 34 and 35 holes of the match with birdies. After a tremendous drive, Strafaci pulled a 4-iron from 246 yards and hit it to 15 feet, leaving him two putts for birdie. Osborne also hit an excellent tee shot, but left his second shot on the grassy bank adjacent to a greenside bunker to the right of the green. After Strafaci put his eagle putt within a foot of the hole, Osborne missed his birdie attempt and conceded the hole and the match.
“That was the first time in my life where I told myself that you're going to hit a winning shot,” Strafaci said, “but I actually hit a winning golf shot when it mattered the most under the most pressure in amateur golf, because under those circumstances, it's foggy, it's different than how I was playing in the first 30 holes, so my distances were a little off. I had 225 to carry the bunkers, and my stock 4-iron is 225, like ripped 4-iron is 225, and it's thick air, and I was like, you're not going to hit this close with a 2-iron. You're going to hit it close by hitting the best 4-iron of your life, and I stepped back, and I closed my eyes and put my hands over my eyes like that, and I said, ‘This is your time to hit a winning shot. Go get it.’ I've done it a bunch of times back home, and I knew I could execute it, and I trusted myself, and I did it.”
Like his teammate Ogletree in the 2019 final, Strafaci found himself trailing by a significant margin in the morning 18, but steadied himself to get close by the break. Osborne picked up where he left off in his semifinal match when he won three of the last four holes to put away Matthew Sharpstene, 4 and 2. Sunday, the SMU junior birdied six of the first 12 holes to lead by five holes. Strafaci bounced back with three birdies of his own and won four of the final six holes to trim the deficit to one hole.
After the break, Strafaci birdied No. 2 to square the match, then took his first lead on the par-4 7 (the 25 hole of the match) with a long birdie putt. After the players halved the next five holes, Osborne birdied the 31 hole (the par-5 13) to square the match again as fog began rolling in from the ocean. But Strafaci hit the par-4 14 with a 3-wood and eagled from eight feet to pull back in front, and went two ahead with a par at the par-3 15.
Osborne battled back with birdies on the net two holes to tie the match yet again as Strafaci found a fairway bunker off the tee at 16 and the penalty area on 17 with is second shot, leaving the players tied going to the final hole.
Strafaci’s five-hole comeback also nearly matched what matched what Tiger Woods accomplished in the first of his three consecutive victories in 1994 when he rallied from 6 down after 13 holes to beat Trip Kuehne at TPC Sawgrass.
“You know everyone in a match is going to have those nine holes where they just kick your [butt]”, said Strafaci, who like Ogletree gets custody of the Havemeyer Trophy for the next year. “It's just going to happen, whether that's one down, they just beat you, or five down. You just don't know when it's going to come. I've come back from that before, so I knew I was playing good enough. Ollie was playing great, and I don't think Ollie made a mistake coming down the last 18. I think he made one bogey, and that was on 15. You know, he played phenomenal. I think I had seven or eight birdies and an eagle on the last -- right, in the last 18? Six birdies and an eagle.”
Strafaci reached the championship match with a 4 and 2 opening-round victory over Kelly Chinn of Great Falls, Va., a 2 and 1 win over Julian Perico of Peru in the round of 32, and 1-up victories over Segundo Oliva Pinto of Argentina, Stewart Hagestad of Newport Beach, Calif., and Aman Gupta of Concord, N.C.
In the semifinals, the Tech senior saw a 4-hole lead through 12 holes evaporate by the time he got to the 18 hole against Aman Gupta, but he survived 1-up when Gupta landed his tee shot in a fairway bunker and failed twice to get out. In the quarterfinals, Strafaci needed to make a 3½-foot par putt to oust 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad by the same margin, and in Thursday afternoon’s Round of 16, a rules breach by Segundo Oliva Pinto’s caddie on No. 18 gave Strafaci a 1-up triumph after the two were deadlocked going to Bandon Dunes’ par-5 closing hole.
· Sunday’s win extended Strafaci’s personal match play winning streak to 14 dating back to a first-round loss to Luis Gagne in the 2018 U.S. Amateur. The streak includes the six wins at this year’s U.S. Amateur, five at the North & South and three collegiate matches.
· Strafaci also became the fourth golfer to win the North & South Amateur at Pinehurst and the U.S. Amateur in the same year, joining George Dunlap (1933), Jack Nicklaus (1959) and Hal Sutton (1980).
· Georgia Tech coach Bruce Heppler has now coached three U.S. Amateur champions – Matt Kuchar (1997), Andy Ogletree (2019) and Tyler Strafaci (2020). Only Florida’s Buster Bishop, who coached Bob Murphy (1965), Steve Melnyk (1969) and Fred Ridley (1975), has also coached three.
· Heppler made the 9.5-hour journey – flight to Portland and drive to the resort – to watch his fifth-year senior, Tyler Strafaci, play in the final. He said awaiting his on-site COVID-19 test seemed much longer than the trip from Atlanta to Oregon. Heppler got into Bandon Dunes at 3:30 a.m. PDT after departing Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport at 6 p.m. EDT. Yellow Jackets assistant coach Devin Stanton has been on-site all week. He caddied for 2019 champion Andy Ogletree.
· The two finalists are both exempt into the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego, Calif., and will likely earn invitations to the Masters Tournament next April. Strafaci also earns an exemption into the 2021 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s in England, provided he is still an amateur. The R&A will also exempt 2019 U.S. Amateur champion Andy Ogletree because this year’s Open Championship was canceled due to COVID-19. Ogletree must remain an amateur as well.
· Strafaci is exempt for the next 10 U.S. Amateurs, while Osborne is exempt into the next three.
· The 2021 U.S. Open will be Strafaci’s second start in the championship. He missed the cut in 2018 at Shinnecock Hills.
· Tyler Strafaci and his family are longtime members at Grande Oaks Golf Club in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where the popular 1980 movie “Caddyshack,” was filmed. The club has since been renovated and bears little resemblance to the facility seen in the film.
· Strafaci’s late grandfather, Frank Strafaci Sr., competed in 16 U.S. Amateurs, reaching the quarterfinals twice, in 1947 and 1949. He also lost a tough opening-round match to Arnold Palmer, 1 up, in 1954 at the Country Club of Detroit. Palmer, who won the event, said it was his toughest match of the week. Strafaci Sr. also tied for ninth in the 1937 U.S. Open. Tyler’s father, Frank Jr., who is caddieing for him this week, qualified for three U.S. Amateurs.
MORE FROM STRAFACI
“It's crazy. I'm not going to lie; it's stressful. Winning the Am is amazing, but winning four matches in a row on 18, that's something I'm always going to look back on if I'm in a major and I'm even going into the last hole with someone like Brooks Koepka or Tiger or someone like that down the road. I'm going to look back and say I've done this before, I've done it on the biggest stage in amateur golf, I should be ready for this. That's something I'll never forget, winning the last [four] matches 1 up.” – Tyler Strafaci on his dramatic wins the past four days
“It's the best. I've been going on walks pretty much every day, and just what you see out here is so cool. And the courses are so different than everything I've ever seen in the States.” – Strafaci on Bandon Dunes
“I don't know if I would travel across the country, that's insane. That just shows what kind of a person he is. I gained a lot of respect for him. I don't know if I would have won if he wasn't here. Just that little bit of stuff that he told me before I went out for my second 18 was awesome, and I'll forever be thankful to him for coming and showing his support and being a badass out there.” – Strafaci on Georgia Tech golf coach Bruce Heppler