'Toledo Strongman' Stranahan remembered

Frank Stranahan (right) with Arnold Palmer at the 1949 North and South amateur golf tournament in Pinehurst, N.C.

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Needing a break from the dusty backroads of the PGA Tour in the 1950s, Frank Stranahan turned to the circuit's secretary, Jim Gaquin, and asked him to drive his car from Houston to Baton Rouge. There would be a pro-am in Port Arthur, Texas, along the way, but "Stranny" was off on other adventures, entrusting his big Lincoln to Gaquin.

And when they re-connected in Baton Rouge?

"He said to me, 'How are my clothes?' Not 'How are you?' but 'How are my clothes?' " Gaquin said, laughing. "He was so fussy about his wardrobe. I used to have to take them in every night."

It wasn't the only quirky thing about Stranahan, whose death last weekend saddened Gaquin, who remains one of the few connecting threads to the formative years of the PGA Tour. He was the PGA Tour secretary from 1957-61 and among the many friends he made was the legendary Stranahan.

In the books as a six-time winner on Tour, the "Toledo Strongman" was more heralded as one of the premier amateurs of his generation, though he never did win the U.S. Amateur. "That was like (Sam) Snead never winning the U.S. Open," Gaquin said.

Twice the winner of the British Amateur, Stranahan was of an era when it was more dignified to remain amateur, though truth be told, he could afford it. Born to R.A. Stranahan, a Boston native who amassed a fortune with Champion spark plugs, "Stranny" truly had privileges others didn't have – not that he didn't work exceedingly hard at what he loved. He became a world-class power-lifter, polished his golf game to a level that enabled him to finish second at the Masters (1947), second in the Open Championship (1953, to Ben Hogan), play on three Walker Cups, pile up hundred of amateur titles, and win on the PGA Tour, and when the golf was done in the mid-1960s, Stranahan embraced marathons.

"Last time I saw him was the 1988 U.S. Open at The Country Club," Gaquin said. "He was thin by Stranahan standards, from all the marathons."

Though he didn't see Stranahan after that, Gaquin – who lives on Cape Cod south of Boston – often heard from his old friend. "He became a recluse, which was so different than when he played on Tour. He was pretty well liked by the other players and he was very generous. I think he helped a lot of them financially. He would call me up, just to talk, and to offer me things I should get involved in."

But friends also knew that Stranahan was convinced he was going to live, if not forever, well into his 100s. "He was very peculiar," Gaquin said. "But he did think he had some sort of formula to live a long time."

Instead, Stranahan was 90 when he died in West Palm Beach, Fla.

"I did a story on him for the 1979 program for the U.S. Open at Inverness," Gaquin said, noting that Inverness is where Stranahan honed his game. "I got paid for the story, but lo and behold, 'Stranny' sent me $500, too. He said, 'I liked the story and my brother liked the story.'

"He was unique."

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