On June 29, 1950, at Capilano Golf & Country Club in West Vancouver, B.C., one of the most memorable matches in the history of the PNGA was played. The two combatants, Ray Weston and 19-year-old Al Mengert, both from Spokane Country Club, battled for 40 holes in a monumental PNGA semifinal match before the duel was decided.
With a strategic design by Stanley Thompson, Capilano rewards players who take chances, but penalizes those who don't execute shots properly. Above all, good putting is critical to scoring low at Capilano, one of North America's most spectacularly scenic courses. On this day in 1950, Mengert's putting was magical, a trait he enjoyed throughout his remarkable amateur career, and later when he turned professional.
Before 1950, Mengert had won two National Jaycees Junior titles (then regarded as America's national junior championship) in 1946 and 1947, defeating Gene Littler in the latter championship. In PNGA Men's Amateur Championship play, he had reached the semifinals in 1946. In 1949 and 1950, he was the Washington State Men's Amateur champion, defeating Jack Westland in 1949.
Weston was by no means an unknown commodity in PNGA play. He won the 1947 PNGA Men's Amateur Championship, defeating Chester Gordon in the final at Portland's Alderwood Country Club. In 1949 at Seattle Golf Club, he lost to the 1945 and 1947 California Amateur champion and one-time Walker Cupper, Bruce McCormick.
A Memorable Match
In the morning round of their finale, Ray Weston shot 68 to lead Mengert by four holes. In the afternoon round, Mengert reached the par-five first hole in two, stopping just 10 feet from the hole. Weston also reached the green in two and putted up for a cinch birdie. But Mengert began his scintillating final 18 by holing the eagle putt.
On the blind second hole, Mengert knocked in a snaky 30-footer for a birdie, making him only 2-down after two holes. The par-five third hole is easily reached in two if a hidden bunker on the right 200 yards from the tee can be flown. Both players did that, and reached the green in two and got birdies. Number four is a short par-three featuring a two-tiered green guarded by a lake. Weston put his ball on the upper tier 15 feet from the hole, and got his putt down for a birdie and a 3-up lead.
The fifth, another par-five over water, requires a left-center drive to set up a second shot short of the green and an easy run-up chip to the hole. Mengert negotiated it perfectly, birdieing the hole and reducing Weston's lead to 2-up. Mengert's wonderful putting came to the fore again on the downhill sixth, where he got another birdie to cut Weston's lead in half. Even though he was three-under after six holes, Weston had lost three holes to Mengert, who was six under after six holes.
Capilano's number-one handicap hole is the seventh, and Weston stemmed Mengert's birdie barrage by holing an eight-footer for birdie and a 2-up lead. The eighth, a short par-four that doglegs slightly left, involves a tee shot that must be placed on the right side of the fairway for the best approach to the green. Mengert played his tee ball correctly, and followed up with a second shot that landed 15 feet from the hole. Once again, the putter took over and gave Mengert another bird.
At the par-three ninth, Mengert left himself with a tricky 30-foot downhiller. But with his confidence sky-high, he stroked his putt into the back of the jar and the match was suddenly all-square. Mengert shot an amazing eight-under-par 29 on the front nine. Meanwhile, Weston also shot lights out with a 33, but lost the four-hole lead he'd earned in the morning round.
On to the Back Nine – And More Thrills
Capilano's 10th hole is another short par-five, uphill to a long and narrow green. Both players reached the green in two, with Mengert 30 feet out and Weston 20 feet. Mengert rammed his putt in and, to the astonishment of the crowd, Weston dropped his, too. The 1,000 spectators roared their approval at the spectacular eagles.
Holes 11, 12 and 13 were comparatively anticlimactic as both players got pars. Weston regained a 2-up lead after birdieing the 14th and 15th holes. The par-three, 265-yard (since shortened to 238 yards) 16th was probably the pivotal hole of the match. Mengert pulled his tee shot into the bunker left of the green, while Weston put his tee shot in the middle of the green 30 feet out. Mengert blasted out 20 feet short. The gallery sensed the end was near. Weston, feeling that a par would win the hole, proceeded to lag his approach putt but left himself a three-foot tester. Extremely cool under this pressure, Mengert surveyed the situation as the spectators became so quiet the humming of bees could be heard. Al calmly stroked the ball into the hole and the crowd erupted. The putt and the gallery's response unnerved Weston, who missed his putt. Mengert was suddenly 1-down.
On the 17th, a straightaway par-four, Mengert again knocked in a 40-foot birdie putt. Weston was now dejected. What must a guy do to win? The 18th was halved with par-fives. The duo had each shot 33 on the back nine, with Mengert firing a 62 and Weston 66. Mengert's 62 still stands as Capilano's match-play course record.
In the sudden-death overtime, both men continued playing great golf, with each getting birdies on the 37th hole, pars on the 38th, and birdies on the 39th. The combatants were nearing exhaustion from the tremendous pressure and the physical exertion after eight hours of competition. The war ended on the par-three 40th hole, when Weston missed a short three-footer for par.
Mengert's Legerdemain on the Greens
Observers had never seen such magic on the greens as displayed by Mengert. His unique "long-stroke" putting style was truly masterful. In the final, he walked away from Harry Givan, 3 & 2, with more sub-par golf. Even Harry acknowledged "he was up against a real unbeatable buzzsaw."
The year 1952 was Mengert's most productive as an amateur. In the PNGA Men's Amateur Championship at Tacoma Country & Golf Club, he defeated past champion Dick Yost in the third round, but lost to the eventual winner, Bill Mawhinney, in the semifinals.
In the Northwest Open at Spokane Country Club, Mengert had his putter again performing tricks. He posted rounds of 68-67-65-65, 265, and won by nine strokes over Bud Ward, the Northwest's leading professional at the time.
In the 1952 U.S. Amateur at Seattle Golf Club, Mengert reached the final, losing to Jack Westland. In his last amateur tournament in 1952, Mengert won the Mexican Amateur Championship, defeating seven-time French Amateur champion, Henri Lamaze, 1-up.
In the final of the Mexican Amateur, Mengert was 3-up at lunch and 4-up after 27 holes despite playing with an intestinal infection and fever that had kept him up most of the previous night. He scored 68 in the morning round and a 34 in the first nine of the afternoon round. Lamaze reduced the lead to one by the 36th hole, which each parred to end the match. In December 1952, Al Mengert ended a remarkable amateur career to become a professional on the PGA Tour, where he would rise to even greater heights.