BANDON, Ore. — Tyler Strafaci is trying to bring a USGA championship back to his family for the first time in 85 years.
The Georgia Tech senior birdied the 18th hole to defeat Oklahoma State’s Aman Gupta 1-up Saturday evening in the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes. Strafaci advanced to face SMU’s Charles Osborne in a 36-hole championship match Sunday morning.
Strafaci’s grandfather, Frank, won the U.S. Amateur Public Links title in 1935.
“Ever since I was a kid playing golf, I remember my dad telling me stories about my grandfather,” Strafaci said. “All my dad’s friends would talk about how great of a guy he was and how good of a golfer he was. Every time I went to Pinehurst people came up to my father and told him how awesome that his dad was. There was such a history and I always knew that, so I am just happy to be part of that.”
Last month, Strafaci won the North & South Amateur at Pinehurst to earn a locker in the clubhouse near his grandfather, who won the tournament in 1938 and 1939.
Strafaci’s father, Frank Jr., also had a decorated amateur career including a few appearances in USGA championships. Frank Strafaci is caddying for his son this week.
“He knows my game better than anyone so having him calm me down, it’s been good,” Strafaci said. “In the past, I didn’t like having him caddy because we’d bicker back and forth, but he knows I’m at a level where I am in control of my game so he is there to push me along instead of teaching me.”
Strafaci got plenty of looks during the past year at The Havemeyer Trophy that goes to the champion after his college teammate and former roommate, Andy Ogletree, won the 2019 title.
“I glimpsed at in when he brought it in, but I always had a dream that the first time I hold the trophy, it’s mine,” Strafaci said. “It was cool to see the Havemeyer around his apartment when we’d hang out and watch TV with that as the centerpiece.”
Strafaci never trailed against Gupta and went 4-up on the 12th hole before Gupta won four of the next five holes to even the match on No. 17.
“Walking up the fairway on No. 17, my ball was in the bunker and I had some negative thoughts in my head that I said to my dad and he snapped me out of it,” Strafaci said. “He got in my face a bit and got me more positive. He said the only thing I can control is a birdie on the last hole.”
Strafaci did that to win the match after Gupta found trouble off the tee and took three shots to get out of a fairway bunker, ending up with a double bogey on the par-5 18th hole.
“That took a lot for me on 18 because you have to imagine that everything is going downhill,” he recalled. “I had given away four holes so if I had not won, in my mind it would have almost been embarrassing and tough for me to live with because there were some decisions in the round that cost me a shot here and there. To hit those three shots on No. 18 and give myself a six-footer for birdie, I’m proud of myself and proud of my dad for keeping me under control.”
Strafaci will face off for the championship against Osborne, who defeated Charlotte’s Matthew Sharpstene 4&2 in the semifinals.
“It’s kind of unbelievable,” Osborne said. “I can’t believe it that I’m here. It’s really cool how this week has gone for me and I’m excited to be in it.”
Osborne and Strafaci, who both earned an exemption into next year’s U.S. Open, met for the first time on the driving range prior to the semifinal matches. While Strafaci is ranked No. 56 in the World Amateur Golf Rankings, Osborne is No. 460.
“I haven’t had much experience in match play,” Osborne said. “I’ve been looking at it like I have nothing to lose and everything to gain so I try to be as aggressive as possible. I always considered myself a good player. I know the rankings don’t show that, but it is just a number at the end of the day. I know the game I have and I know what I can do so I try to do me and let everyone else think what they want to think.”
Osborne and Sharpstene tied the first four holes before Osborne went ahead with a par on the fifth hole. Sharpstene won the sixth and seventh holes to take the lead before Osborne birdied the eighth and ninth holes to go ahead 1-up.
“I felt like I turned the table a bit when I won a couple holes there and got back to 1-up headed to the back,” he said.
Osborne added a par on the 11th hole to stretch the lead to two holes, but Sharpstene got a birdie on the 12th to move to one down. Osborne had birdies on No. 13 and No. 14 to move to 3-up.
On the par-3 15th hole, Osborne had to take an unplayable lie and finished with a double bogey, but Sharpstene also found trouble and made double bogey. Sharpstene hit his tee shot into the penalty area on No. 16 as Osborne made par to win the match.