Before hopping a plane to Rio last week to play in the Brazilian Open Frank Stranahan announced that he was turning professional. On the surface, it is a thoroughly baffling decision. In the first place the change will make no change at all in Frank's way of life. Since the war he has done nothing but play tournament golf. If on the one hand—not making a nickel from his skill—he was the purest of amateurs, Frank least fitted the amateur's traditional role of the man who plays his game as an avocation. It is hard to see any benefits that will accrue to him as a pro. He regularly competed against the pro pack in Open tournaments, and as a son of a multimillionaire, he needs prize money like Iceland needs ice. The only things really which the move accomplishes would seem to be quite disadvantageous to Frank. He will no longer be able to compete in amateur tournaments, and despite his father's sanguine statement that he thinks Frank "will be one of the best professionals in the country," it is doubtful if he has the ability to be more than just another pro.
There are, to be sure, several layers beneath the top one as there are in anything that has to do with Frank Stranahan. They encourage discussion and speculation since they attach themselves to a young man who, sometimes because of his own actions and sometimes not, has always been a controversial subject. If you are the son of a rich man competing in the public glare of sports, it is easy to become unpopular. All you have to do is make a few mistakes. Frank has made plenty.
In the 1946 British Amateur, in a match he eventually lost to Gerry Micklem 4 and 3, he fired his caddy on the sixth hole for giving him the wrong line to the pin. (Some on-the-spot observers say it was the wrong line and that the caddy had made earlier errors, but, regardless, you don't send your caddy in.) The next year in the British Amateur, Frank did an even more foolish thing. On the first hole in his match with George Morgan, Morgan holed a short putt for a 4 and then conceded Frank his 4 by tapping his "gimme" putt into the hole—whereupon Frank graciously claimed the hole on the grounds that he had played only three shots.
The British forgive more easily than we do, perhaps. Not many weeks afterwards, en route to finishing in a tie for second in the British Open, Frank made it very clear by his actions that he had seen the light, and the British press, which had rebuked him soundly, went out of its way to note that it had recognized the change. Since that day, there have been no Stranahan incidents in Britain and he has twice won the British Amateur and performed well in the Open.
At home, however, Frank found it harder to live down his reputation as "the bad boy of American golf," chiefly because he continued to do very foolish things. He hit a batch of practice balls onto a green during a practice round previous to one Masters tournament after he had been specifically requested not to do so by the greenskeeper. He practiced after one of his rounds in a National Amateur not on the practice fairway but on the first tee, and persisted in doing so after a club official had ordered him to stop. For these and similar exhibitions in which he conducted himself as if there was one rule for Stranahan and one rule for other people, Frank was not selected for the 1953 Walker Cup team. While his golfing credentials were in order, the U.S. Golf Association demands, and very rightly, that a candidate for the honor of representing his country be qualified also as a responsible gentleman.
FAILURE AT DETROIT
Being left off the Walker Cup team made an incisive and lasting impression on Stranahan. There are a number of golf hands who believe that it had more than a little to do with his decision to turn pro. Frank, as they see it, came to feel that only if he captured the National Amateur—incidentally, the one major amateur championship he has never won—could he assure his selection for the team in 1955.
Well, this summer he failed again when he was eliminated in the fifth round by Arnold Palmer, the eventual winner. Doubtlessly he realized even more acutely what he and all golfers already knew: The Amateur, with its six rounds of capricious 18-hole matches, is the hardest of all championships to win, and a golfer is wise to set his heart on some more reasonable goal.
If Frank Stranahan were nothing but a willful young man with a talent for golf and a petulant predilection for flaunting authority and disregarding roped-off areas, there would be no point in paying any attention to him. There is, however, something more to Stranahan than this.
First, you cannot fault him on courage. He won his first big event, the 1945 Durham Open, by a stroke from Ben Hogan. Being paired on the last day with Hogan, a man who does not like to finish second, isn't any picnic. In the 1947 British Open at Hoylake, needing a two on the last hole, a 408-yarder, to tie with Fred Daly for the top, Frank came through with a gallant second shot that expired exactly one inch short of the cup. His last round in the 1953 British Open—he again finished in a tie for second—was a 69, a new course record for Carnoustie until Hogan racked up his 68. Moreover, and more to the point, most people around golf find Frank a hard guy-not to like. He is fundamentally a warm person. He goes all the way for his friends. His rivals consider him a fine sportsman. One final thing: Only Hogan has worked harder to develop a champion's game.
In the first and last analysis Frank has always thought of his golf as justifying his existence. He is sincere when he explains, as he did on the eve of turning professional, that he felt he had an unfair advantage over other amateurs who could not play or practice daily, as he could. Beyond this, there is no doubt that his ambition as a pro is to prove to himself and the world that he is capable of earning a living with his own hands.