There were more than a few pinch-me moments for Georgia Tech’s Tyler Strafaci last week when he got the opportunity to compete in the PGA TOUR’s Valspar Championship in Tampa.
There was showing up at registration and being handed the keys to a new Lexus that had one mile on the odometer.
There was hitting balls on the range next to World Golf Hall of Fame member Ernie Els … and having him strike up a conversation.
There was playing a practice round behind Tiger Woods and seeing firsthand the enormous gallery and experience the energy that comes along with it.
Not bad for a guy who won’t even celebrate his 20th birthday until July.
And while Strafaci didn’t make the cut, he wasn’t at all overwhelmed by the experience. If anything, his experience and the advice of the professionals he met and talked with only solidified his belief that he belonged.
“It made me feel better about myself,” Strafaci said. “I can see myself in that spot if I keep working hard, in a few years.”
The message that Strafaci took away from the touring pros in the field was the same: Your swing is good, don’t change your swing, keep working and getting better. He also learned an important lesson about being about to maintain a mentally stable approach to the round.
“They said whatever you do, try not to get emotionally high or emotionally low or you’re not going to be able to finish the round,” he said. “I was pretty calm.”
Strafaci is a sophomore from Davie, Fla. He earned a sponsor’s exemption for the event by winning the Valspar Collegiate. He went to course last weekend, returned to school on Monday and went back to Florida on Tuesday.
In addition to Els, Strafaci got some time to spend timeTech All-America Stewart Cink, who offered him some long-term advice. His playing partners both days were Ben Silverman and Abraham Ancer, who both graduated from the Web.com Tour to the big tour this season. Strafaci said all the players the interacted with were positive and helpful.
Strafaci’s approach was respectful. As one of two amateurs in the field, he recognized the opportunity as a privilege and approached it in a businesslike manner.
“I felt like I did a good job conducting myself,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a distraction. I just wanted to conduct myself and play golf.”
Strafaci shot rounds of 75-76 on one of the most difficult stops on the Florida Swing. He was disappointed about not qualifying for the weekend, but was overall pleased with his performance.
“I’m a competitor and I felt like I played well enough to make the cut,” Strafaci said. “It’s cool to look back and realize I’m still a teenager and got to play in a PGA tournament.”