History's Greatest Players…
If you think Tiger Woods was the first great golfer to understand that a chiseled physique could take you further in the game than a portly potbelly, you need to know about Frank Stranahan.
Stranahan was born into wealth (his father, R.A. Stranahan founded Champion Spark Plugs) in 1922 in Toledo, Ohio, but he had the work ethic of a man who needed to scrape together a living. He was fanatical about fitness and had the build to show it. We’ll get to his golf career in a second, but to know how fit this guy was consider this: He was ranked No. 1 in his weight class in powerlifting from 1945 to 1954 (leading to his on-course nickname “Toledo Strongman”) and after he retired from golf in the early 1960s he competed in 102 marathons.
His father’s wealth enabled him to concentrate on golf, and he learned the game from Byron Nelson at Inverness Club. He played for the University of Miami and then compiled one of the most impressive amateur records since Bobby Jones.
He emerged on the national spotlight in 1941, winning the Trans-Mississippi Amateur. He went on to win a number of major amateur titles, including three North & South Amateurs; four Western Amateurs and two British Amateurs. He made all three Walker Cup team between 1947 and ’51. In 1948, he won three national amateur titles – the Mexican, Canadian and British.
Perhaps the only hole in his stellar career was that he never won the U.S. Amateur, although he narrowly missed in 1950, losing in the championship match to Sam Urzetta on the 39th hole. He had even more impressive near-misses as an amateur playing on the professional circuit. In 1947 he finished tied for second at The Masters and solo second at the Open Championship. That year he also finished 13th at the U.S. Open.
Financially able to remain an amateur, he won more than 70 tournaments, including six consecutive All-American Amateurs from 1948 to ’53. His most impressive feat may have been winning six PGA Tour titles as an amateur. He turned pro late in his career and won only twice, the 1955 Eastern Open at Mount Pleasant Golf Course in Baltimore, and the 1958 Los Angeles Open.
Athletics was never Stranahan’s problem. But his personality became one for him. The year after he finished second at The Masters he was suspended from the tournament for breaking the Augusta rule of playing more than one ball during a practice round. He also ran afoul of Clifford Roberts for verbally abusing a club employee.
Stranahan also endured tragedy in his personal life, losing his wife, Ann, to cancer at the age of 45, and his oldest son, Frank Jr., to cancer at 11. His second-oldest son, Jimmy, died of a drug overdose at 19. His father also died of cancer.
But Stranahan’s commitment to physical fitness led to a long life. He died last year at the age of 90.