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‘Toledo Strongman’ Muscled His Way Into History

When ESPN The Magazine announced last week that 77-year-old fitness buff Gary Player would appear in the buff in its annual “Body Issue,” golf’s original fitness fanatic must have been looking down with glee from some great gymnasium in the sky. Two days before the announcement, former amateur great Frank Stranahan died at a Florida hospice, less than two months shy of his 91st birthday. Dubbed “The Toledo Strongman” and “Muscles” during his post-World War II golfing heyday, Stranahan won two British Amateurs and dozens of other amateur titles while tussling successfully with the top professionals of his day. Competing as an amateur, he won four tournaments on what would become the PGA Tour while finishing second at the 1947 Masters and two Open Championships. After losing to Arnold Palmer in the ’54 U.S. Amateur, Stranahan turned pro and won two more tour titles, most notably the 1958 Los Angeles Open. While many credit Player for bringing fitness to golf, Stranahan was the game’s workout pioneer, a champion powerlifter who traveled to tournaments with an extensive barbell collection in the trunk of his Cadillac. Ripped like Jean-Claude Van Damme, he inspired Player with his devotion to physical training and heralded the fitness-trailer age that has produced hardbodies like Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and others. What’s more, Stranahan tested his physical limits for a lifetime, running more than 100 marathons starting in his late 40s and dead-lifting 265 pounds on his 78th birthday. He worked out regularly until recently, frequenting a gym near his West Palm Beach home. With his fitness regimen and strict diet – he was a vegetarian who fasted one day a week and for 10-day stretches four times a year – Stranahan had aimed to live until 120. “I’m into longevity,” he told author Curt Sampson in 1997. “You will be too, but by then it will be too late.” Stranahan fell about 30 years short of his desired lifespan, but his earthly run was nonetheless rich with color. Born to wealth his father accumulated as the founder of Champion Spark Plugs, he grew up on a vast Toledo estate and learned to play golf at the Inverness Club. He took lessons from head pro Byron Nelson and won Ohio Amateur championships in 1941-42 before serving as an Army Air Corps pilot in World War II. Bankrolled by his father after the war, Stranahan beat the pros at the 1945 Durham (N.C.) Open and for the next decade reigned as the world’s premier amateur. He won multiple national championships in Canada, Mexico and Britain, with his British Amateur crowns coming at Royal St. George’s in 1948 and St. Andrews in 1950.


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