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Golf's Original Muscle Man

By: | Fri 19 Jun 2020 | Comments

The radical physical transformation of Bryson DeChambeau has drawn scrutiny during the PGA Tour's return, the cerebral American having gained a dramatic amount of weight and muscle to generate more speed and power in his game. Some have questioned the long-term impact of this change, but there's no doubt that the 26-year-old has achieved his goal, ranking second in driving distance in the first event back at Colonial, reaching a stratospheric ball speed of 190 mph.

What this means for the future of the game is unknown. Calls for a new tournament ball were quickly heard again, European Ryder Cup legend Colin Montgomerie publicly demanding the introducing of bifurcation in equipment, requiring a separate ball for professionals. Long drive champions, including Joe Miller, have immensely powerful physiques, with nine-time major winner Gary Player - himself an unashamed fitness advocate - declaring for years that golfers would soon routinely hit the ball 400 yards once the true athletes progressed into the ancient sport.

Sports science and biomechanics have evolved to a tremendous degree, the likes of Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka now approach the gym with the same considered focus as a short game practice session, changing the perception of tour stars, the leading players now look like athletes, betraying the lazy stereotype that golf was simply a mere pastime.

However, while it's true to say that more golfers these days have shed the beer belly in favour of a six-pack, it's not like fitness and athleticism are entirely new concepts, they have been a perennial feature in the same manner as the Vardon grip.

Tiger Woods took weight training to fresh heights, but he was preceded by former world number one Greg Norman, himself following the footsteps of the aforementioned Player. The South African's daily exercise exploits are famous. Just ask him, he'll tell you.

Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were objectively strong men, while the great Sam Snead was remarkably flexible throughout his 90 years on the planet. 

When it comes to incredible athletes in golf, Babe Didrikson Zaharias is unsurpassed. The Texan was a triumph in various sports, claiming two gold medals in track and field at the 1932 Olympics, before becoming a professional golfer and winning ten championships now recognised as majors by the LPGA Tour.

But rather than all of these iconic names, the person Bryson DeChambeau's trailblazing efforts most resemble are that of Frank Stranahan, who can be considered Golf's Original Muscle Man.

Known as the Toledo Strongman, Stranahan was born in Ohio, the son of a millionaire and mentored by Byron Nelson. Bankrolled by his father and possessing a hubristic personality, the young man won over 70 amateur tournaments, including the Amateur Championship twice, and contended in professional majors, finishing runner-up at the Masters in 1947, the Open that same year and again in 1953, finishing second to Ben Hogan. He later won six PGA Tour events, including the Los Angeles Open in 1958.

But what Stranahan is remembered for most was his lifetime dedication to fitness. Adhering to a vegetarian diet, also shunning alcohol, smoking and coffee, when most of his contemporaries travelled with several packs of Chesterfield cigarettes, the Strongman traveled with his weightlifting equipment, working out daily against the advice of those who believed it would negatively impact his golf. Arnold Palmer nicknamed him 'muscles'.

Indeed, for a decade, Stranahan was a nationally ranked power lifter, The New York Times noting that he "developed a specialized weight-lifting regimen that would be suitable for a golf swing by making sure he did not overdevelop his chest muscles or biceps."

Following his retirement from competitive golf, Stranahan later completed 102 marathons, stating that his goal in life was to reach the age of 120. Sadly, that pursuit fell short by 30 years, the playboy sportsman dying at the age of 90 in 2013.

In a statement, then PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said: “We look at the athleticism of our players today and can say that Frank was truly before his time when it came to golf and fitness."

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