By Alex Podlogar
Photos by John Patota and Melissa Schaub
PINEHURST, N.C. – The North & South Amateur runs in the family.
Tyler Strafaci can say that now.
With five birdies on a sweltering Fourth of July on venerated Pinehurst No. 2, Strafaci etched his name into Pinehurst lore alongside that of his grandfather Frank Strafaci, defeating crowd favorite William Holcomb V 3&1 to capture the 120th North & South Amateur Championship on Saturday.
Tyler’s victory makes for the first grandfather-grandson pairing to ever win the North & South, which has been played every year since 1901 and is the longest consecutively running national tournament in the country. Frank Strafaci won the North & South twice, in 1938 and 1939.
“I first came to Pinehurst when I was a little kid, and mom and dad would always tell me what my grandfather thought of Pinehurst,” Tyler said, clutching the coveted Putter Boy trophy on the 18th green. “The first thing we would do, my dad would walk me into the locker room and we’d find Grandpa’s locker. We’d sit in there and look at all of the names.
“I never thought that this day would ever come.”
Tyler Strafaci, too, will now have a locker in the Pinehurst clubhouse, and his name will appear three columns and down a little to the right of his grandfather’s on the Perpetual Wall in the Pinehurst Clubhouse’s History Hall. Tyler never met his grandfather, who passed away in 1988.
Father and caddie Frank Strafaci Jr. raises his arms to celebrate son Tyler’s triumph in the North & South.
Strafaci finished the match in the same manner he took control of it – with inspired and stunning iron play. Having taken a 2-up lead to the par-3 17th, Strafaci hit a towering draw into the green, the ball settling 3 ½ feet from the flag. He rolled the putt in for his fifth birdie of the day, his father Frank Jr., who has been on the bag all week, raised his arms in triumph, bringing them down to embrace his son.
“This place has such an unbelievable special history and feeling for me and my family,” Tyler’s father said, choking back tears. “And my dad…this is just so special.”
As well as he played Saturday – Tyler was on track to shoot 67 – he did get a little help from someone or somewhere here and there. Struggling to find any rhythm with his driver, Strafaci blocked a tee shot well right on the long par-4 8th. But the ball struck a tree and bounced down into the native rough before trickling back onto the edge of the fairway.
“Dad and I were walking up and I said, ‘Dad, whose ball is that?” Tyler said. “He said, ‘I think it’s yours.’ I was like, ‘Grandpa, you are a silly, silly (man).’”
Strafaci made the great break count, searing a high draw that would foreshadow the shot on 17, nestling the ball to 6 feet to make birdie and take a 1-up lead.
After that, Strafaci missed just one fairway the rest of the way.
Good thing, too, because Holcomb kept fighting. His game was off a touch – Holcomb hit just 8 of 17 greens in regulation, but chipped in for birdie on the 11th to tie the match again.
“It was a great match, and hats off to Tyler,” said Holcomb, whose magical run at Pinehurst began with his sensational semifinal appearance in the 2019 U.S. Amateur. “I’m pretty frustrated because I feel like I gave away a few shots, but heck, what did Tyler have? Five, six, seven birdies on No. 2, one of the hardest golf courses in the world? He played great.”
Holcomb still plans to keep Pinehurst close to him.
“The ultimate goal is to get back here for the 2024 U.S. Open,” he said. “This feels like a second home to me, and hopefully I can come back sometime – or maybe even move here because I always play so good here.”
Frank Strafaci, left, after winning the 1938 North & South Amateur, is awarded as the trophy presentation by Kennesaw Mountain Landis.
Ultimately, though, the day belonged to the Strafacis.
A decorated amateur golfer himself, Frank Jr. competed in the North & South for decades, playing into the 2000s. He had hoped to join the Father and Son Club at the North & South – one that features only Jack and Jackie Nicklaus (1959 and 1985, respectively).
This, though, will do just fine.
Father and Son, following the son’s victory, chose to walk the 18th hole alone together, Frank still carrying the bag. As the large gallery that followed the match awaited them at the clubhouse, the two walked toward the blinding western sun, still beating down on them.
“You did it, bud,” Frank said to his son.
As champion and runner-up of the 120th North & South Amateur, Tyler Strafaci, right, and William Holcomb V will receive automatic exemptions into the 2020 U.S. Amateur.
120th North & South Amateur
June 29-July 4
Pinehurst No. 2
Round of 32
Thursday, July 2
No. 32 Tyler Wilkes d. No. 1 Travis Vick, 1up
No. 17 Matt McCarty d. No. 16 Jackson Van Paris, 3&2
No. 8 Davis Thompson d. No. 25 Evan Davis, 19 Holes
No. 24 William Holcomb V d. No. 9 Blake Taylor, 3&2
No. 29 Gordon Sargent d. No. 4 William Paysse, 1up
No. 13 Trey Winstead d. No. 20 Connor Schmidt, 4&3
No. 5 Cooper Dossey d. No. 28 Kelly Chinn, 1up
No. 12 Nick Lyerly d. No. 21 Kiersan Vincent, 4&3
No. 31 Jonathan Brightwell d. No. 2 Peter Fountain, 3&2
No. 15 Tyler Strafaci d. No. 18 James Piot, 3&2
No. 7 Dylan Menante d. No. 26 Philip Barbaree, 1up
No. 10 Joe Highsmith d. No. 23 Andy Lopez, 3&2
No. 3 David Perkins d. No. 30 Alex Ross, 5&4
No. 14 Turk Pettit d. No. 19 Blake Hathcoat, 1up
No. 6 Rasmus Neergard-Petersen d. No. 27 Maxwell Moldovan, 2&1
No. 11 Jonathan Yaun d. No. 22 Matthew Sharpstene, 2&1
Friday July 3
Round of 16
No. 32 Tyler Wilkes vs. No. 17 Matt McCarty, 7 a.m.
No. 8 Davis Thompson vs. No. 24 Williamholcomb V, 7:08 a.m.
No. 29 Gordon Sargent vs. No. 13 Trey Winstead, 7:16 a.m.
No. 5 Cooper Dossey vs. No. 12 Nick Lyerly, 7:24 a.m.
No. 31 Jonathan Brightwell vs. No. 15 Tyler Strafaci, 7:32 a.m.
No. 7 Dylan Menante vs. No. 10 Joe Highsmith, 7:40 a.m.
No. 14 Turk Pettit d. No. 3 David Perkins, 1up
No. 11 Jonathan Yaun d. No. 6 Rasmus Neergard-Petersen, 9&8
No. 24 William Holcomb V d. No. 17 Matt McCarty, 2&1
No. 13 Trey Winstead d. No. 5 Cooper Dossey, 2&1
No. 15 Tyler Strafaci d. No. 10 Joe Highsmith, 1up
No. 11 Jonathan Yaun d. No. 14 Turk Pettit, 19 Holes
Saturday, July 4
No. 24 William Holcomb V d. No. 13 Trey Winstead, 5&4
No. 15 Tyler Strafaci 5.. No. 11 Jonathan Yaun, 2&1
No. 15 Tyler Strafaci d. No. 24 William Holcomb V, 3&1