The region lost one of its greatest golfers earlier this month when Al Mengert of Spokane died on April 6, one day short of his 92nd birthday.
Early in his amateur career, Mengert won the 1946 and 1947 U.S. Jaycees Junior Championships in his Eastern Washington hometown and in Peoria, Ill., topping a young Gene Littler at the Midwest site.
Over the next three years, he advanced to the final round of the Washington Men’s Amateur each time, winning twice (1949 and 1950). He also won the 1950 PNGA Men’s Amateur and the 1952 Mexican Amateur. In 1952, he won the Northwest Open, competing as an amateur against the region’s PGA professionals.
Later in 1952, he played in one of the biggest golf matches in Seattle history. An estimated 9,000 spectators followed Mengert and Everett’s Jack Westland in the 1952 championship match of the U.S. Amateur, held that year at Seattle Golf Club.
Mengert, the top-ranked amateur in the world at age 23, was the heavy favorite against Westland, 47, who went on to become a six-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Mengert led after 27 holes of the 36-hole final, but Westland rallied for a 3-and-2 victory.
Mengert turned professional later that year, taking a job as an assistant pro at famed Winged Foot Golf Club in New York, to be mentored by Claude Harmon, the longtime club pro who himself had won the 1948 Masters.
Mengert would become one of the great club-pro players in history and competed in 27 major championships, including eight Masters, the most by any non-exempt player.
He led the 1954 U.S. Open through 45 holes and was the first-round leader at the U.S. Open in 1966. He was paired in majors with Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Palmer and Gary Player.
Mengert was the director of golf at some of the nation’s finest golf courses and became renowned as much for his teaching as his playing. Among his students were current coaching gurus Butch Harmon and Jim McLean.
During his tenure at Tacoma Country and Golf Club, Mengert won the Washington Open three consecutive times (1963-65), and also won it in 1971.
He had many talents, which kept him deeply engaged in golf. He designed the first elite set of woods for Spalding in the 1960s, crafted his own custom putters and wedges, and built and co-owned a top-100 golf course called Legend Trail in Scottsdale, Ariz.
“I was the best of what you would call ‘the country doctor,’” Mengert said. “The old family doctor did everything – he treated you for all your ailments, took out your appendix, delivered babies. He did everything, which I did, too.”
He played his final round of golf at age 72, shooting a 66.
In 2001, Al Mengert was inducted into the Pacific Northwest Golf Hall of Fame.