Frank Stranahan, a three-time USA Walker Cup Team member who enjoyed a stellar amateur career, died on June 23 at the age of 90 in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Stranahan won 51 amateur titles, including the 1948 and 1950 British Amateurs, six PGA Tour events, and was a three-time runner-up in major championships. He competed on the victorious 1947, 1949 and 1951 USA Walker Cup Teams, posting an overall record of 3-2-1, with a 2-1 mark in singles. Stranahan is considered by many to have compiled one of the finest amateur playing records between Bob Jones in the 1920s and Tiger Woods in the 1990s.
“Frank was a very close friend and a good guy,” said Arnold Palmer upon learning of Stranahan’s passing. “I enjoyed my relationship with Frank very much, going back to my amateur days when we competed against each other on quite a few occasions. He was a great player. I didn’t think he got the credit that he deserved for his good golf.”
In 1948, Stranahan captured the British Amateur, beating Charles Stowe, of England, 5 and 4, in the final. That same year, he was a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Amateur.
Two years later, he again won the British Amateur, this time defeating Dick Chapman, 8 and 6, in the championship match. Later that summer, he lost to Sam Urzetta in 39 holes in the championship match of the U.S. Amateur at Minneapolis Golf Club. It is tied for the longest championship match in U.S. Amateur history, matched only by the 2000 final won by Jeff Quinney over James Driscoll.
His amateur career also included four victories in the prestigious Western Amateur (1946, ’49, ’50 and ’51) and three wins in the North and South Amateur (1946, ’49 and ’52), which is held every year in Pinehurst, N.C.
Golf wasn’t the only passion for Stranahan, whose father, Robert Stranahan, revolutionized spark plug design and founded Champion Spark Plug. He also was No. 1 in his weight class in power lifting from 1945-54, earning the nickname “Toledo strongman” long before today’s fitness craze in golf. He won body-building and weightlifting titles into his 70s.
When he retired from golf – he turned professional in 1958 – Stranahan became a prolific long-distance runner, competing in 102 marathons. Even at an advanced age, Stranahan kept a workout routine and a strict vegetarian diet.
“He had been slowing down over the past few weeks,” his son, Lance, told the Toledo Blade.
Stranahan earned a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania’s renowned Wharton School of Business, and after he retired from the PGA Tour after the 1964 season, he concentrated on business.
But Stranahan also endured several family tragedies. His wife, Ann, a top amateur golfer who finished second in the 1960 Canadian Women’s Amateur, died at 45 from cancer. Stranahan’s eldest son, Frank Jr., passed away from cancer at 11, and his second son, Jimmy, died of a drug overdose in Houston at the age of 19. His youngest son, Lance, works in real estate in Florida.
As a junior golfer, Stranahan was coached by legendary player Byron Nelson, who was then the head professional at Inverness Club in Toledo. Stranahan won several club championships at Inverness, which has hosted seven USGA championships, including four U.S. Opens.
Stranahan was the low amateur in four Masters Tournaments (1946, 1947, 1950 and 1953) and five British Opens (1947, 1949, 1950, 1951 and 1953). He tied for second – with Nelson, two strokes behind Jimmy Demaret – at the 1947 Masters, and also twice finished runner-up in the British Open, in 1947 and 1953.
Four of his six PGA Tour victories came as an amateur, including the 1948 Miami Open. After turning pro in 1954, following a loss to eventual champion Palmer at the U.S. Amateur, Stranahan won the 1955 Eastern Open and 1958 Los Angeles Open. He also won the Ohio Open in 1948, 1960 and 1961.
“He told me [a week earlier] that if he didn’t win in Detroit, he was going to turn pro,” said Palmer in a 2003 interview with the Toledo Blade. “As it turned out, I played him in the fifth round. I won, 3 & 1, and sure enough, Stranny turned pro the next day.”
Besides his six PGA Tour wins, Stranahan had nearly 70 top-10s. In 1958, he finished a career-best 15th on the money list with $16,642.
“Today, if a player turned pro with the credentials and accomplishments I had, it would [mean] millions and millions of dollars,” Stranahan said in a 2001 interview with Toledo Blade sportswriter Dave Hackenburg. “It was nothing like that for me.”
Stranahan had Hollywood good looks and an impressive physique thanks to his body-building. He traveled with barbells, weights and squat racks, and Hall of Famer Gary Player, legendary for his own fitness regimen, once said, “Nobody worked harder than Frank.”
A memorial service for Stranahan is planned for July 2 in the Quattlebaum Funeral Home in West Palm Beach.
Some information used for this article was obtained from the Toledo Blade.