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Muscled Out of the Masters
John Garrity
April 06, 1998
Half a century after getting run out of the tournament, Frank Stranahan is still going strong
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April 06, 1998

Muscled Out Of The Masters

Half a century after getting run out of the tournament, Frank Stranahan is still going strong

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In the book Stranahan says, "I don't want to go into that." To me he says, "I've heard a lot of stories, but I'm not going to tell you those."

(Note to editor: I didn't push for an answer, but a former female acquaintance of Stranahan's told me that she found the story of the blonde plausible. "In those days," she said with a laugh, "Frank would grab everything but the third rail." Neither did I challenge Stranahan when he voiced no resentment toward the Tour players who would not stand up for him in 1948, or the golf writers who were afraid to cross Roberts and Jones, or the officials of the PGA and USGA, who studied their own fingernails. "I'm sure the players were jealous," Stranahan told me. "They had every right to be. My dad was bankrolling me, and I could play every week without worrying." Nelson has always assumed that Stranahan did hit extra balls onto the greens. "Frankie's probably forgotten," Nelson told me. But he added that Stranahan impressed everyone by staying the week and acting like a gentleman. "Most of these kids today would say, 'Cram it,' and leave town.")

Stranahan does have one curious bit to add to Sampson's account. The year after his banishment, he says, he returned to the Masters and drew a large bid in the club's Calcutta auction. His buyer? None other than Cliff Roberts. "But I didn't finish very well," Stranahan says.

(Note to editor: I don't want to leave the impression that Stranahan was a one-tournament wonder. He won two British Amateurs, finished second to Ben Hogan in the 1953 British Open and finally turned pro in '54, winning two Tour events before retiring around 1960. I worry, too, about not having the space to get into his personal history. Cancer took his wife, Ann, when she was 45, and killed his son Frank Jr. at age 11. Another son, Jimmy, quarreled with his father and painted his bedroom black before dying of a drug overdose at 19. Then Stranahan, a full-time stock trader after studying at the Wharton School of Economics, lost much of his inherited fortune in the Wall Street crash of October 1987. Understandably, he tries to control his fate and that of his loved ones. He started his youngest son on barbells when he was five, and Lance grew up to be a good junior golfer, a karate black belt and a Teenage Mr. West Palm Beach bodybuilder. In 1993, when a promoter asked father and son to "guest pose" at a competition, Lance choreographed a routine straight out of vaudeville. His father, playing a decrepit codger, limped on stage with a cane. Enter the sexy nurse, who "injected" the old man with an oversized hypodermic needle. Voilà—the suddenly virile Stranahan stripped off his shawls and flexed, revealing a sleek, delineated torso. "Anytime my father goes into something, it's with total dedication," says Lance, who is 35, engaged to be married, and selling real estate in South Florida.)

Stranahan pushes the book away. He would rather talk about the swell party that he attended the other night, the one at Ballen Isles Country Club. Sam Snead was there. Gene Sarazen. Perry Como couldn't make it, but the old comic from Fort Lauderdale, Woody Woodbury, had 'em in stitches. An old guy sang. Stranahan frowns. "Who was the old guy who sang?" he asks.

Vic Damone? (It was in the paper.) "Not Vic. He's a young guy." He catches himself. "Well, yeah, he's old too. No, the old guy, sings real loud. Those great old songs." Stranahan gives up. "I'll think of it before your car is out of the driveway."

(Note to editor: Stranahan is not always so comfortable at social events. "I'll go to a party," he told me, "and someone says, 'I hear you're a golfer.' I say, 'Well, I was the best amateur in the world.' And they say, 'Did you ever meet anybody famous?' " He snorted. "They don't know what the hell's happening. They don't even read the newspaper." On the other hand, he still enjoys a spin around the dance floor. Stranahan recently went out dancing with a widow of long acquaintance and came back raving about how good she looked. He said, "I told her one of my interests is longevity, and she seems to have found the secret!")

He seems distracted now. Apparently, 50-year-old memories of green grass and sunshine are no longer compelling. He has survived Jones. He has survived Roberts. Through exercise and the use of the powders and pills that fill his refrigerator, he hopes to reset his cellular clocks to a life span of 100 or 120 or even 150 years—surviving us all. He has changed games.

(Note to editor: A friend gave me this Stranahan quote from the '70s: "Golf is a waste of time.")

I've overstayed my welcome, and if there's a scandal here, it has cooled considerably over half a century. I pick up the book, thank Stranahan for his time and move toward the door. "I'll remember that name," he says. Then I'm outside, blinking in the blinding sun.

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