Golfing great and legendary broadcaster Ken Venturi passed away on Friday after being hospitalized for nearly two months from pneumonia and infections in his back and intestines. Venturi, who won the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional, was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame last October and he was not well enough to travel to St. Augustine, Florida, for the induction ceremony on May 6th.
We all have our memories of Mr. Venturi and I’ll share my own.
I actually was introduced to the game by him and his teaching videos. Before I even picked up a club, my stepdad would have me watch Venturi’s instructional tapes. I can’t remember much of them, but I can still picture a congenial, white-haired man talking about golf and he was engrossing.
I also remember Venturi in the broadcaster booth, specifically for my first vivid memory of any major — the ’96 Masters when Greg Norman had his epic meltdown and lost to Nick Faldo. Venturi, who had a few Masters disappointments of his own, empathized with Norman.
I wish I could speak more eloquently about Venturi’s life, but he was a bit ahead of my time.
“He meant so much to the game, in so many different ways,” said John Cook, a longtime tour pro whom Venturi mentored starting when Cook was 14. “Not just his great playing record but also as a transcending television analyst, and then with his philanthropic endeavors.
“Really, I can’t think of one person who has hit the game so vastly and through so many different channels.”
Mr. Venturi was an accomplished amateur golfer, but his path to prominence as a professional included several speed bumps. He overcame a severe stutter, weathered two crushing losses in the Masters, sustained lingering injuries in a September 1961 car accident and disappeared into a maddening, career-threatening slump.
So it seemed fitting, somehow, that his most triumphant moment occurred in trying circumstances, when he played 36 holes in scorching heat and humidity at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.
And on the U.S. Open victory:
There, on the broiling Blue Course on June 20, 1964, Mr. Venturi became an enduring symbol of perseverance in winning the U.S. Open under brutal conditions. He shot 66-70 on the final day – back then, the tournament concluded with 36 holes on Saturday – to win his only major championship.
When his final putt dropped, sealing a four-shot victory, the magnitude of the moment almost stunned Mr. Venturi. He raised his arms, mumbled, “Oh my God, I’ve won the Open!” and began crying when he saw tears streaming down the face of fellow competitor Raymond Floyd.
Mr. Venturi didn’t just win the Open – he won it in unforgettable fashion.
“I’ve seen people over the years who tell me where I won, what I shot and exactly what I did,” he said in an April 2011 interview. “There aren’t many Opens where everyone can tell you all about it.”
It already was hot for the morning round, when Mr. Venturi surged into contention. His swift pace slowed as the heat took its toll. He started shaking on No. 17 and struggled to walk off the 18th green after completing his round.
Here’s a video of Venturi taking a walk down memory lane of his ’64 win.
He’ll be missed, but also remembered fondly. R.I.P. Ken Venturi.