Museum Moment: Westland’s Historic Amateur

Aug 26, 2010

By Rob Alvarez

Chambers Bay, in University Place, Wash., is playing host to the U.S. Amateur Championship this week, marking the second time the championship has been played in the state of Washington. The USGA first came to the state in 1952, when the Seattle Golf Club hosted the 52nd edition of the championship.

Jack Westland, 47, a native of Everett, Wash., ousted Al Mengert, 3 and 2 in the final match to clinch his first and only USGA championship. To this day he is the oldest competitor to win the Amateur. There is, however, much more to Mr. Westland’s story.

Born Dec. 14, 1904, in Everett, Snohomish County, Wash., Westland attended local schools and graduated from the University of Washington Law School in 1926. He spent the next four years working in the cotton goods business in New York City and Chicago, then dabbled in the investment brokerage world in Chicago from 1930 to 1936, and in Seattle from 1936 to 1941. After enlisting in the United States Navy in the summer of 1940, Westland served in the Pacific theater of operations and retired from the service as a commander in 1946. Westland returned home to Washington and operated an insurance agency until 1954.

It was while in Chicago that Westland established himself as an outstanding amateur golfer, winning the Chicago Amateur Championship three years in a row. In 1929 he intended to play in the British Amateur Championship, but his boat was late docking in England, causing him to miss his starting time. So as not to leave Europe empty-handed, he hustled to France and captured the French Amateur.

Westland returned to the states a more well-known figure, and in the 1931 U.S. Amateur earned his way into the final match against the 1913 U.S. Open and 1914 U.S. Amateur champion, 38-year-old Francis Ouimet. The younger Westland lost to Ouimet, saying in a 1953 Collier’s magazine article that Ouimet “was a better golfer…I was so sure I could beat any doddering thirty-eight-year-old golfing hero, and I felt sorry for him. He repaid my sympathy by whipping me good – six up and five to go, to be specific.”

Twenty-one years later Westland found his role reversed; he was nine years older than Ouimet when he defeated Al Mengert, who was then 23. In the same Collier’s article, Westland said sportswriters called Ouimet “Pop,” – since he was nine years older than Ouimet, the writers had taken to calling Westland “Grandpappy Jack,” or the “Wheelchair Champion.”

Westland’s success in the 1931 Amateur signaled his arrival on the elite stage of American amateur golf. He partnered with players such as Ouimet, Jess Sweetser, Max Marston, Johnny Goodman, Lawson Little and Chandler Egan in the 1932 and 1934 Walker Cup matches. The Washingtonian also claimed victory in the 1933 Western Amateur.

The years between his U.S. Amateur runner-up appearance and his later victory found Westland playing mostly local golf, winning the Pacific Northwest Amateur four times. He helped to usher in a new age of dominance of the sport by Westerners. In the 1952 Amateur, five of the eight players who took part in the quarterfinal round were from the Pacific Northwest.

Westland prided himself on being an amateur. Though he possessed a special ability, he thought of himself as being no different from the average businessman golfer, squeezing in two rounds per week if he was lucky. He wasn’t a long player either, never weighing more than 150 pounds, but Westland’s swing was the model of stability and control. Jack’s father taught his son from a young age to keep his swing simple, and to pay no mind to where his opponent’s shots landed, but instead to focus only on his position. Westland, to some extent, blamed his loss in the 1931 U.S. Amateur on straying from his father’s philosophy.

If going to law school, working in the cotton and investment brokerage businesses, serving his country during World War II and selling insurance, all on top of being an outstanding amateur golfer wasn’t enough, Westland also wanted to run for political office.

U.S. Amateur spectators arrived in the Seattle area to find campaign signs all over the place, telling them “You Can Trust Jack Westland.” When not practicing or playing matches, Westland could be found giving speeches and touring his native Everett’s neighborhoods, handing out buttons to supporters.

Westland rode the emotional wave of his Amateur Championship to a victory in the Republican primary for Washington’s second congressional district on Sept. 9, 1952. He subsequently won the general election and in January of 1953 began a 12-year run serving the people of Washington as a United States Congressman.

After failing to win reelection in 1964, Westland worked as an automobile dealer in Monterey, Calif., near Pebble Beach, until his death in 1982. Westland is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.

Jack Westland donated to the USGA Museum a “shooting stick” – a fold-up chair that he used to rest his then 47-year-old legs during the final match of the 1952 U.S. Amateur Championship. The shooting stick is currently on display in a section of the Museum dedicated to outstanding amateurs.

Robert Alvarez is the Collection Manager of the USGA Museum; e-mail him questions or comments at RAlvarez@usga.org.

Jack Westland donated to the USGA Museum a “shooting stick” – a fold-up chair that he used to rest his then 47-year-old legs during the final match of the 1952 U.S. Amateur Championship. The shooting stick is currently on display in a section of the Museum dedicated to outstanding amateurs. (USGA Museum)