Frank Stranahan

28th April 2019

Frank Richard Stranahan is one of golf’s greatest amateurs and, alongside his friend Arnold Palmer, a player who crucially helped regenerate The Open Championship in the post World War II years.

He was a slightly controversial figure in his day with his love of fitness, questionable temperament and ‘spoilt rich kid’ attitude leading to a number of minor incidents which blighted his golfing legacy to a small degree.

Stranahan was born on 5th August 1922 in Toledo, Ohio to Robert and Page Ellyson Stranahan. They had seven children in total. Robert and his brother Frank were the co- founders of the Champion Spark Plug Company. The Stranahan’s became multi-millionaires on the back of the growth in the automobile industry and Frank, named after his Uncle, was born into a life of luxury.

When young Frank started to take an interest in golf, a game his father already played to a high standard, he was enrolled at the Inverness Club in Toledo. Byron Nelson, one of the best players in the world and conveniently the club pro at Inverness between 1940-44 was one of his teachers.

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Frank Stranahan Aged 16 (Photo: Toledo Blade) 

He won the Ohio Amateur Championship in 1941 and played golf at the University of Miami before serving as a bomber pilot in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II (1943-45). Upon his return he focussed full time on being the best golfer he could be.

Given the financial advantages he enjoyed his amateur status was often called into question with his role as a Champion ‘salesman’ very much seen as a position of convenience. In an interview with Sports Illustrated in 1998 he said “I’m sure the players were jealous. They had every right to be. My dad was bankrolling me, and I could play every week without worrying.” His often blatant arrogance and reputation as a playboy in his youth no doubt didn’t endear him to his fellow competitors.

He won 51 amateur tournaments and six PGA Tour events. He played amateur golf between 1936 and 1954, competing in over 200 tournaments across three continents. He played in many pro events as an amateur winning four of his PGA Tour titles without picking up a cheque.

He first came to prominence at the 1947 Masters when he tied Byron Nelson for second, two shots behind the winner, Jimmy Demaret. The following year he ran into controversy at The Masters when he was barred by Clifford Roberts, then Chairman of Augusta National, from competing due to repeatedly playing more than one ball into the greens in practice. Stranahan always denied this. Curt Sampson, in his book ‘The Masters: Golf, Money and Power in Augusta, Georgia’ tells the story of how Stranahan was set up by Roberts who was upset that he had dated his blonde secretary the year before and how Bobby Jones refused to intervene on his behalf. Stranahan brought a ticket and stayed to watch the tournament without further incident. He was low amateur in 1946 (tied 20th), 1947, 1950 (tied 14th) and 1953 (tied 14th) and played in a total of twelve Masters.

Frank Stranahan

Frank Stranahan (Photo: Unknown / USGA Archives)

He had little success at the U.S. Open. His best finishers were tied 13th in 1947 and tied 10th in 1958.

Stranahan won the 1948 and 1950 Amateur Championships. He beat Charlie Stowe 5&4  at Royal St. George’s and compatriot Dick Chapman 8&6 at St. Andrews respectively. It was some turnaround as his previous visits to Great Britain hadn’t exactly gone according to plan. In the 1946 Amateur Championship he fired his caddie on the sixth hole for giving him a wrong line to the hole. Then in 1947, after his Scottish opponent holed a short putt for a four before conceding Stranahan his by tapping his ball into the hole, the American claimed the hole on the ground that he had only played three shots. He also reached the final in 1952 at Prestwick but was beaten 6&5 by fellow American E. Harvie Ward.

He has the best overall Amateur Championship record in the history of the event for those playing a minimum of 30 matches. Stranahan played in a total of 9 Championships and 50 matches. He won 43 of these and lost just 7, an impressive 86% win record.

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Frank Stranahan With The Amateur Championship Trophy in 1950

Amongst his more notable amateur triumphs Stranahan won the Canadian Amateur Championship (1947,’48), the Mexican Amateur (1946,’48,’51), the Western Amateur (1946,’49,’51,’52), North and South Amateur (1946,’49,’52) and the All-American Amateur at Tam O’Shanter (1948,’49,’50,’51,’52,’53).

He also played on three victorious U.S. Walker Cup teams in 1947, 1949 and 1951, posting an overall individual record of W3-L2-H1, with a W2-L1 mark in Singles.

He most wanted to win the United States Amateur Championship. However, it always alluded him. The closest he came was in 1950 when he lost to Sam Urzetta on the 39th hole at Minneapolis Golf Club; it remains the joint longest Final in the history of the event.

He turned pro in September 1954, aged 32, shortly after losing 3&1 to a 24-year-old Arnold Palmer in the U.S. Amateur’s Round of 16. The Championship at the Country Club of Detroit was his 11th and final attempt to capture the title.

In a 10 year pro career his most notable win came at the 1958 Los Angeles Open. In his combined amateur-pro career he won six times, came runner-up seven times and posted 67 top-10s. Past his very best when he finally took the plunge most of Stranahan’s better performances in the pro game came as an amateur.

With finance and time never a problem Stranahan took instruction with many coaches over the years and as a result he developed a repution as a mechanical, technical player. His swing was far from natural and not at all attractive it was said.

Frank first got into body building and healthy living as an aspiring high school American Football player. When his attentions turned to golf he continued with his fitness programme becoming known as the ‘Toledo Strongman’.  Arnold Palmer nicknamed him ‘Muscles’. The extent of his interest is clear when one learns he was a nationally ranked powerlifter in his weight class between 1945 to 1954. He travelled with weights and argued passionately for the benefits it brought his game at a time when most of his peers were still concerned that it would reduce their flexibility. Gary Player described Frank as his “fitness mentor, friend and inspiration”.

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Frank Stranahan Competing In Over 70’s Body Building Competitions (Photo: Toledo Blade)

He swore by a vegetarian diet and never drank coffee or alcohol. He never smoked either which was also unusual for much of his lifetime.

After he retired from competitive play in 1964 he studied at Harvard University before  earning a master’s degree in business from the prestigious Wharton School and pursuing a new career in investment banking with his own Stranahan Investments with offices in New York and Palm Beach, Florida, where he primarily lived from 1968 onwards. He lost much of his inherited fortune in the Black Monday stock market crash of October 1987.

Stranahan took up running in his late ‘40s and as with everything else in his life dedicated himself fully to his new interest. He ran 102 marathons, including Boston, Chicago and New York, and often chose to jog in Central Park and Florida in the early hours of the morning.

His private life was marred in sadness. Stranahan married Ann Williams in Chicago in July 1953 and under his tutelage she became a first rate amateur golfer too. She finished runner-up in the 1960 Canadian Women’s Amateur, competed nationally and won 25 local tournamants. However she died aged just 45 in April 1975 from cancer. They had three sons but two of them also died young; Frank Jr. died from bone cancer in August 1966 aged 11, having already had a leg amputated, and Jimmy in 1977 from a drug overdose at college in Houston,Texas when he was only 19. Stranahan’s youngest son Lance was his only survivor.

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Frank And Ann Stranahan With Frank Jnr (Photo: Toledo Blade) 

In his later years in Florida he chose to live modestly in minamilist fashion with next to no furniture and with all of his golfing mementoes removed from display. He simply spent his time running and lifting weights. In 1997 he won the over-70 division of the National Physique Committee Gold Cup Classic bodybuilding competition. On his 78th birthday he was videoed dead-lifting 265 pounds (which can still be viewed on You Tube).

Stranahan sadly started to suffer from dementia in his late 80’s and died after a brief illness on Sunday 23rd June 2013 in West Palm Beach, Florida aged 90.

ME.

Copyright © 2014-2019, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.

The Open Championship’s Silver Medal

2nd May 2018

The Silver Medal is awarded to the leading amateur at The Open Championship, provided they make the cut and complete all 72 holes.

It was first awarded in 1949 and in the 69 Championships since has been won 50 times by 44 different players.

Here’s some background on the Silver Medal and a full list of the select group of past winners.

History

The Open Championship was first played on 17 October 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland.

It is the oldest of the four major championships in professional golf and the only one played outside the United States.

In July 2018 the 147th Open will be played at Carnoustie Golf Links. It will be the eighth time this famous course in Angus, Scotland will have staged the Championship.

Amateurs In the Field

Nowadays the field is made up of 156 players. These are mainly professionals but there are always a handful of amateurs too.

Exemptions to both categories are given by The R&A based on previous wins / performances and world rankings. There are currently 27 exemption categories that provide c.110 players.

There are five amateur exemptions which are awarded to: –
– The Amateur Champion (current year).
– The European Amateur Champion (current year).
– The Asia-Pacific Amateur Champion (previous year).
– The Mark H. McCormack Medal Winner – Men’s WAGR (previous year).
– The United States Amateur Champion (previous year).

The remaining c.46 players have to play in The Open Qualifying Series (11 International events) or Regional (13 GB&I events) and Final Qualifying (4 GB events) to earn their places. Additional amateur players often come through these latter events.

Best Amateur Performances

Bobby Jones (USA) was the last amateur to win The Open Championship in 1930, his famous Grand Slam year. Jones had previously won the event in 1926 and 1927.

Prior to that The Open had been won by just two other amateurs – Englishmen John Ball (1890) and Harold Hilton (1892 and 1897).

Frank Stranahan (USA) finished runner-up in 1947 and 1953, behind Fred Daly and Ben Hogan respectively.

Reid Jack (SCO) finished tied 5th in 1959 before more recently Justin Rose (ENG) tied 4th in 1998 and Chris Wood (ENG) tied 5th in 2008.

Finally, who can forget Paul Dunne’s (IRE) performance at St. Andrews in 2015. Dunne was tied for the 54 hole lead after rounds of 69, 69 and 66 before sadly a final round 78 saw him slip down the field for an undeserved tied 30th finish.

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Alfie Plant – Winner of the 2017 Silver Medal (Photo: @GolfMonthly)

The Silver Medal Winners

In the 69 Championships from 1949 to 2017 the Silver Medal has been won by 44 players on 50 occasions (all in bold in the table below).

The Medal has not been awarded on 19 occasions during this period when no amateur was able to make the cut.

Frank Stranahan (USA) won it four times in its first five years. He was also the low amateur in 1947 before it came into existence.

Joe Carr (IRE), Michael Bonallack (ENG) and Peter McEvoy (ENG) are the only other multiple winners, having each won it twice.

Since 1972 a Bronze Medal has also been awarded to any other amateurs who complete all four rounds.

Here is the complete list of Silver Medal winners: –

Year Venue  Winner
1949 Royal St George’s  Frank Stranahan
1950 Troon  Frank Stranahan (2)
1951 Royal Portrush  Frank Stranahan (3)
1952 Royal Lytham & St Annes  Jackie Jones
1953 Carnoustie  Frank Stranahan (4)
1954 Royal Birkdale  Peter Toogood
1955 St Andrews  Joe Conrad
1956 Royal Liverpool  Joe Carr
1957 St Andrews  Dickson Smith
1958 Royal Lytham & St Annes  Joe Carr (2)
1959 Muirfield  Reid Jack
1960 St Andrews  Guy Wolstenholme
1961 Royal Birkdale  Ronnie White
1962 Troon  Charlie Green
1963 Royal Lytham & St Annes  Not awarded
1964 St Andrews  Not awarded
1965 Royal Birkdale  Michael Burgess
1966 Muirfield  Ronnie Shade
1967 Royal Liverpool  Not awarded
1968 Carnoustie  Michael Bonallack
1969 Royal Lytham & St Annes  Peter Tupling
1970 St Andrews  Steve Melnyk
1971 Royal Birkdale  Michael Bonallack (2)
1972 Muirfield  Not awarded
1973 Troon  Danny Edwards
1974 Royal Lytham & St Annes  Not awarded
1975 Carnoustie  Not awarded
1976 Royal Birkdale  Not awarded
1977 Turnberry  Not awarded
1978 St Andrews  Peter McEvoy
1979 Royal Lytham & St Annes  Peter McEvoy (2)
1980 Muirfield  Jay Sigel
1981 Royal St George’s  Hal Sutton
1982 Royal Troon  Malcolm Lewis
1983 Royal Birkdale  Not awarded
1984 St Andrews  Not awarded
1985 Royal St George’s  José María Olazábal
1986 Turnberry  Not awarded
1987 Muirfield  Paul Mayo
1988 Royal Lytham & St Annes  Paul Broadhurst
1989 Royal Troon  Russell Claydon
1990 St Andrews  Not awarded
1991 Royal Birkdale  Jim Payne
1992 Muirfield  Daren Lee
1993 Royal St George’s  Iain Pyman
1994 Turnberry  Warren Bennett
1995 St Andrews  Steve Webster
1996 Royal Lytham & St Annes  Tiger Woods
1997 Royal Troon  Barclay Howard
1998 Royal Birkdale  Justin Rose
1999 Carnoustie  Not awarded
2000 St Andrews  Not awarded
2001 Royal Lytham & St Annes  David Dixon
2002 Muirfield  Not awarded
2003 Royal St George’s  Not awarded
2004 Royal Troon  Stuart Wilson
2005 St Andrews  Lloyd Saltman
2006 Royal Liverpool  Marius Thorp
2007 Carnoustie  Rory McIlroy
2008 Royal Birkdale  Chris Wood
2009 Turnberry  Matteo Manassero
2010 St Andrews  Jin Jeong
2011 Royal St George’s  Tom Lewis
2012 Royal Lytham & St Annes  Not awarded
2013 Muirfield  Matthew Fitzpatrick
2014 Royal Liverpool  Not awarded
2015 St Andrews  Jordan Niebrugge
2016 Royal Troon  Not awarded
2017 Royal Birkdale  Alfie Plant
2018 Carnoustie  Sam Locke

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are the only Silver Medal winners to go on and become ‘The Champion Golfer of the Year’ too.

Hal Sutton (1983 P.G.A. Championship), José María Olazábal (1994 and 1999 Masters) and Justin Rose (2013 U.S. Open) are other Silver Medal winners to have subsequently secured a major Championship.

ME.

Copyright © 2014-2019, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.