Spokane native Al Mengert, one of the most accomplished golfers in state history and a contender in several major championships, died Tuesday at age 91, one day before his birthday.
Mengert played in 27 major championships, including eight consecutive Masters. His best finish was a tie for ninth in the 1958 Masters won by Arnold Palmer.
“When it was time to go, he picked Masters week,” said nephew Mike Mengert, who works at Clarke Stevens Golf Shop in Spokane. “He had quite the life and golf career.”
Mengert spent his first 20-plus years in Spokane. He grew up near Downriver Golf Club, played football at Gonzaga Prep and briefly attended Stanford before deciding on golf as a career path.
He won the 1946 and 1947 National Jaycees Junior, considered the precursor to the U.S. Junior Amateur. He won three straight Spokane City championships. Mengert was the top-ranked amateur in the world when he lost to Jack Westland in the championship match of the 1952 U.S. Amateur at Seattle Golf Club.
Mengert told the Seattle Times some 60 years later he was battling flu and severe dehydration during the 36-hole final but didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to take away from Westland’s win.
Mengert turned pro in 1952 and his life and golf career took off around the country. His first job was as an assistant pro under Claude Harmon at Winged Foot. He played in PGA events and later Senior PGA tournaments while serving as a head pro in Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, California, Florida and Arizona and at Tacoma Golf and Country Club.
He tied for 13th in the 1954 U.S. Open. He was the first-round leader of the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco.
“That was probably the highlight of his pro career,” said Mengert’s son, Thomas. “The whole family was there and we walked the course with him. I wonder how much time he had to keep his game in shape because he’s giving lessons all the time, but he led the entire field after the first day.”
Mengert played with and against the biggest names in golf, including Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Palmer.
“My dad’s career covered every aspect, amateur play, international play (he won the 1950 Mexican Amateur), professional play, club design, course development,” Thomas said. “He was a superstar as a kid. I always felt my dad fell an inch short because he wanted to be a family man. What it came down to is he wanted to have a full life.”
Mengert won numerous PGA sectional tournaments and state opens at his various stops as a club pro. He won the Northwest Open, Washington Open and Pacific Northwest PGA Championships multiple times. He split time in his retirement years between Oregon and Arizona. Mengert was inducted into the Pacific Northwest Golf Association’s Hall of Fame in 2001.
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