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His name keeps coming up during my research for the U.S. Open.

The first-round leader of the 1966 U.S. Open. The leader through 45 holes of the U.S. Open in 1954 before finishing 13th.  And every time I read about Al Mengert,  my mind drifts to the tape recorder in my office that has not moved in years. It sits on the corner of my desk, waiting for me to begin the tedious task of transcribing about two hours of conversation.

But I really don’t need to transcribe it, because I remember exactly what Mengert said.

I had driven several hours to Black Butte Ranch in Central Oregon  because I wanted to do a story about Mengert, the Spokane native who is one of the greatest golfers in state history. But I also was there for more personal reasons.

I wanted to hear about Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen, legends that Mengert knew, had played with and received instruction from.  And Mengert, 81 at the time, had a crystal-clear memory.

I love the stories about Jones, and what a Southern gentleman he was, and of Snead, whose athleticism amazed even his competitors.

I wanted to hear him talk about his contemporary, Arnold Palmer. I wanted to know more about Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, men who were paired with Mengert in the first two rounds of their first major titles.

I didn’t talk much. I just listened while we ate lunch. An hour became two, just like that.

As I listened, I told Mengert why I was so happy to hear his tales. It went back to when I was working in Chico, Calif. I got the chance to interview Mark Koenig, who was the last surviving member of the 1927 New York Yankees, perhaps baseball’s greatest team ever.

I listened while he told me about partying with Babe Ruth, going to dinner with Lou Gehrig at Gehrig’s mother’s house, and how Gehrig’s teammates were surprised he got married because Gehrig was so shy. It was one of the most memorable 90 minutes of my life. Koenig invited me to come back, just to talk about the old days.

I said I would. I certainly intended to. But something kept coming up. And then Koenig died.

I have always regretted not going to back to see him.

So that is why those hours with Mengert meant so much. I didn’t want to mess up this chance.

Mengert was the best amateur in the world when he and Everett’s Jack Westland played for the 1952 U.S. Amateur title at Seattle Golf Club. Westland won in a huge upset.

Mengert told me that he went into the event with the flu and that he suffered from severe dehydration in the 36-hole final. He could not even see straight. But he waited until 60 years later to tell his story, not wanting to take away from what Westland had accomplished.

In today’s world, Mengert would have undoubtedly turned pro with the intention of playing on the PGA Tour, and he would have done so with great fanfare. But back then, the money was better being a club pro, which Mengert did.

He became one of the great club-pro players in history. He played in 27 majors and eight straight Masters. In 1958 at Augusta, he was tied with Arnold Palmer with six holes remaining.  Palmer played the last six holes in 2 under and Mengert was 3 over.

Mengert was paired with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Johnny Miller in those players’ very first U.S. Open.  I heard about that, and I heard about Mengert playing with Ben Hogan during the first two rounds of the 1953 U.S. Open. I heard about his record three straight titles in the Washington Open. I remember it all.

Maybe I will never transcribe that tape. I really don’t need to.

 

Scott Hanson is a desk editor and a golf and horse-racing reporter for The Seattle Times.  Mengert, now 86, is is doing very well and splits his time between Arizona and Oregon. He is looking forward to helping famed Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan, where he once worked as a club pro, celebrate its 100th anniversary in October 2016.