Obituary: Frank Stranahan, golfer and bodybuilder

Frank Stranahan

Frank Stranahan

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Born: 5 August, 1922, in Toledo, Ohio. Died: 23 June, 2013, in West Palm Beach, Florida, aged 90.

SIXTY years ago today, American Frank Stranahan led the Open Championship at Carnoustie after the first round, ahead of Scotland’s own Eric Brown. He eventually finished joint-second behind fellow-American Ben Hogan. Hardly remarkable, except that Stranahan was an amateur (and therefore shared none of the £2,500 total prize money handed out on 10 July, 1953 to players including Brown and Peter Alliss, who tied for eighth).

In fact, Stranahan was by far the greatest amateur golfer in the world at the time, comparable to Bobby Jones before him and the young Tiger Woods after him.

He also finished second at the 1947 Open in Hoylake, Merseyside, where next year’s Open will take place.

On that occasion, Stranahan finished only one shot behind Northern Ireland’s Fred Daly, the American’s 110-yard approach shot at the last failing by just three inches to force a play-off.

Stranahan’s decision to compete “across the pond” in the post-war years, when most US golfers were reluctant, was seen as a major factor in sustaining and enhancing the Open.

Also in 1947, he was runner-up to the Texan Jimmy Demaret in the Masters at Augusta, Georgia, finishing two shots back to tie for second with another American, the great Byron Nelson.

Stranahan twice won the British Amateur Championship, in 1948 in Sandwich, Kent, and 1950, on the Old Course at St Andrew’s, an event which was considered a major at the time.

He was in the US team that won the Walker Cup in 1947, 1949 and 1951. In all, he won more than 50 amateur tournaments, as well as six US PGA Tour events, having turned pro in the twilight of his career. His most significant win as a pro came in the 1958 Los Angeles Open.

Stranahan became known not just for his golf but for his physique. Diminutive as a boy, he took to bodybuilding, healthy living and diet-watching – several generations before these current days when working out has become de rigueur. He preferred fruit and vegetables to meat and often fasted for several days, drinking only water.

His great friend and rival Arnold Palmer nicknamed him “muscles” – the media dubbed him “the Toledo Strongman” – and he was often described as “Hollywood handsome”. He won many trophies for bodybuilding, pumping iron well into his 70s.

His family has a video of him dead-lifting 265 pounds to celebrate his 78th birthday.

After retiring from golf, he went on to run in more than 100 marathons.

The reason he played mostly as an amateur was because he didn’t need the money: he was heir to a family fortune.

Frank Richard Stranahan was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1922, into a family which had founded and owned Champion Spark Plugs, a company which cashed in on the growing automobile industry throughout the century.

As a schoolboy, he was coached by Byron Nelson, one of the greatest golfers of the era, at the Inverness course in Toledo.

Young Frank initially hoped to play American football but was told he was too small – about ten stone – so he enrolled in a Charles Atlas fitness course to build himself up.

From 1943-45, he served as a pilot in the US Army’s Air Corps.

When he became a touring amateur golfer, in the days when hotels did not have gyms and fitness centres were rare, he took his weight-lifting gear with him.

According to his son, he enjoyed watching hotel bellhops pick up his luggage before buckling under the weight. After he taught his wife to play golf, she went on to win several national and international ladies’ tournaments.

Frank Stranahan’s wife Ann (née Williams), died in 1975 and two of his sons also predeceased him. He is survived by his son Lance.

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