WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Frank Stranahan, the premier amateur of his era who contended for majors and was the first notable player to make fitness a regimen in golf, has died. He was 90.
Stranahan, who died Sunday in Hospice of Palm Beach County, was regarded as the best amateur since Bobby Jones. Quattlebaum Funeral Home, which did not disclose his cause of death, said a memorial service was planned July 2.
The son of a wealthy industrialist family in Ohio — his father was the founder of Champion Spark Plug — Stranahan combined a life of privilege with his devotion to golf to win more than 50 amateur titles, including multiples wins in the British Amateur, Western Amateur and North and South Amateur.
The one title that eluded him was the U.S. Amateur. He lost in the championship match to Arnold Palmer in 1954, and then turned pro. Stranahan, who packed barbells in his suitcase to work out on the road, won six times on the PGA Tour, twice as a pro. His biggest win was the 1958 Los Angeles Open.
As an amateur, he was a runner-up in the 1947 Masters to Jimmy Demaret, finished one shot behind Fred Daly at Hoylake in the 1947 British Open and was a runner-up to Ben Hogan at Carnoustie in the 1953 British Open.
“He was my old buddy,” Palmer said Tuesday from his office in Latrobe, Pa. “We were pretty close for a lot of years. He always thought I would be one of his guys and do the muscle thing and all that. And of course, we played against each other a lot. He was a great guy, a good friend. He played some very good golf.”
Stranahan was devoted to fitness as much as his golf.
He ran in more than 100 marathons, and he was winning trophies for body building and weightlifting well into his 70s. One video shows Stranahan celebrating his 78th birthday with a dead lift of 265 pounds.
Stranahan was born Aug. 5, 1922, and grew up a sportsman at Inverness in Toledo, Ohio, where he was taught by Byron Nelson, who had been hired as the head pro shortly before Nelson won the 1939 U.S. Open. Stranahan was still a teenager when he won the Ohio Amateur in 1941.
“I would say my greatest accomplishment as an amateur was having the opportunity to play in so many of those wonderful golf tournaments,” Stranahan said in a 2001 interview with the Toledo Blade. “At every tournament, they put me with the winner from the week before. So I was always playing with Demaret, Snead, Locke, Hogan and other tremendous champions. I was playing the best courses with the best players, and it was very satisfying to do well in those situations.”
He tied with Nelson in the 1947 Masters, where Stranahan closed with a 68 to finish two shots behind. His best chance at a major was Hoylake that summer, when he went into the final round one shot behind Daly and matched his 72. Six years later, he closed with a 69 to finish in a tie for second at Carnoustie, four shots behind Hogan.
In one of the more famous tales involving Stranahan, he was not allowed to compete in the 1948 Masters when he was accused of hitting more than one shot into the greens during the practice round. Stranahan said he was only hitting additional putts on the green, which was allowed. No matter. He said club officials revoked his invitation.
“So I bought a ticket, and I stayed there,” Stranahan said in a 1998 interview with Sports Illustrated.
He played the next year and tied for 19th.
Stranahan retired from competition in 1964, though he left quite a mark. Beyond his results, he cut an impressive figure with his movie star looks and physique that he enjoyed showing off in tight-fitting shirts. Palmer referred to him as “Muscles.”
“He used to carry his weights in a suitcase,” Palmer said. “He’d get the bellman to carry the luggage to his room, but it was so heavy they couldn’t lift it.”
Stranahan married the former Ann Williams in 1953. She became an accomplished amateur golfer until her death in 1975 from cancer. They had three sons — Frank Stranahan Jr., who died in 1966 at age 11 from bone cancer; and James, who died in 1977. Stranahan is survived by his third son, Lance.