Ken Venturi, former U.S. Open champion and broadcaster, dies at age 82

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May 17, 2013
By PGATOUR.COM news services

Ken Venturi, who overcame dehydration to win the 1964 U.S. Open and spent 35 years in the booth for CBS Sports, died Friday afternoon. He was 82.

"The PGA TOUR joins the world of golf in mourning the loss of one of its most treasured champions and ambassadors, Ken Venturi," PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem said. "His impact on the TOUR and the game itself cannot be overstated. His tremendous accomplishments on the golf course were certainly Hall of Fame worthy on their own, but in Ken one finds a rare example of a golfer whose second career, in television, rivaled the legendary status of his competitive achievements. His unique perspective and poetic delivery as an announcer enhanced countless memorable moments in golf, making his voice and presence as in indelible as the historic tournaments he covered. Ken will forever be remembered as a consummate gentleman, and he will be truly missed."

His son, Matt Venturi, said he died in a hospital in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Venturi had been hospitalized the last two months for a spinal infection, pneumonia, and then an intestinal infection that he could no longer fight.

Venturi died 12 days after he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

"On behalf of the Members, staff and volunteers of the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum, we are saddened to learn of the passing of Ken Venturi," said Jack Peter, Chief Operating Officer of the World Golf Hall of Fame. "Ken made an unforgettable imprint on the game we love. He was a fantastic player, and captivated the nation with his thrilling victory in the 1964 U.S. Open. For 35 years in the broadcast booth at CBS, he was the warm, friendly voice millions invited into their homes to share his unique insights."

He couldn't make it to the induction. His sons, Matt and Tim, accepted on his behalf after an emotional tribute by Jim Nantz, who worked alongside Venturi at CBS.

"I'm so happy he lived to know he was going to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame," Nantz said. "I will cherish my 17 years working with him. But more than that, I will treasure the rich, personal, deep friendship that we shared for nearly 30 years.”

"When dad did receive the election into the Hall of Fame, he had a twinkle in his eye, and that twinkle is there every day," Tim Venturi said that night.

Venturi was all about overcoming the odds.

A prominent amateur who grew up in San Francisco, he captured his only major in the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional, the last year the final round was 36 holes. In oppressive heat, Venturi showed signs of dehydration and a doctor recommended he stop playing because it could be fatal. Venturi pressed on to the finish, closed with a 70 and was heard to say, "My God, I've won the U.S. Open."

"Kenny faced many adversities in his life and always found a way to win," Nantz said. "When I hear Frank Sinatra's 'My Way,' I will always believe that Ol' Blue Eyes was singing that song for his close pal, Kenny Venturi. It makes me think of him every time. On his farewell broadcast in 2002 I told him, 'You will be, always by my side.'  Five years later I wrote a book about my Dad and father figures in my life. I named the book after that very moment."

He had a severe stuttering problem as a child, yet went on to become one of the familiar voices in golf broadcasting. He began working for CBS in 1968 and lasted 35 years.

"We all knew what a wonderful player Ken Venturi was, and how he fashioned a second successful career as an announcer," Jack Nicklaus said. "But far more important than how good he was at playing the game or covering it, Ken was my friend. Ken was fortunate in that the game of golf gave him so much, but without question, Ken gave back far more to the game he loved than he ever gained from it. Over the years, Ken developed a circle of friends that is enormous and whose collective heart is heavy today."

Venturi played on one Ryder Cup team and was U.S. captain in the 2000 Presidents Cup.

As an amateur, he was the 54-hole leader in the 1956 Masters Tournament until closing with an 80, and he was runner-up at Augusta National in 1960 to Arnold Palmer, who birdied the last two holes.

Venturi was born May 15, 1931, in San Francisco, and he developed his game at Harding Park Golf Course. He won the California State Amateur at Pebble Beach in 1951 and 1956, while serving in the Army in Korea between those two amateur titles.

His stammering problem is what led him to golf.

"When I was 13 years old, the teacher told my mother, 'I'm sorry, Mrs. Venturi, but your son will never be able to speak. He's an incurable stammerer,'" Venturi said in 2011. "My mother asked me what I planned to do. I said, 'I'm taking up the loneliest sport I know,' and picked up a set of hickory shaft across the street from a man and went to Harding Park and played my first round of golf."

He turned pro after his close call in the 1956 Masters, and won his first PGA TOUR event at the St. Paul Open Invitational. Venturi won eight times over the next three years, including the Los Angeles Open and the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, before injuries started to affect his game after nearly winning the 1960 Masters.

He hurt his back in 1961 and badly injured his wrist in a car accident the next year. He missed the U.S. Open three straight years until he narrowly qualified for Congressional. It turned out to be an epic final day for the Californian coping with broiling heat.

Venturi shot 66 in the third round, but was feeling weak during the break before the final round that afternoon. John Everett, a doctor and member at Congressional, checked on him and found a normal pulse but symptoms of dehydration.

"Dr. Everett told me ... I was lying next to my locker and he says, 'I suggest that you don't go out. It could be fatal,'" Venturi said in 2011 when he returned to Congressional for the U.S. Open. "I looked up at him and I said, 'Well, it's better than the way I've been living.' And I got off the floor, and I do not remember walking to the first tee. I don't remember the front nine until I started coming into it."

Venturi was so shaken, so weak, when it was over that his final act was to sign the scorecard. He couldn't even read the numbers. Joe Dey, the executive director of the USGA, looked over his shoulder, checked the scores and told him to sign it.

Sports Illustrated honored him as its "Sportsman of the Year" in 1964.

Venturi won three more times, his last win coming in 1966 at the Lucky International at Harding Park, where it all started.

He eventually developed Carpel Tunnel Syndrome in his hands and was forced to retire. That's when he moved into the booth as the lead analyst for CBS Sports, and his voice filled living rooms for the next 35 years until he retired in 2002.

"For the second time in a month, the CBS Sports family has lost one of its legends with the passing of Ken Venturi," Sean McManus, chairman of CBS sports said. "Ken was not only one of golf’s greatest champions, but also the signature voice of golf for almost two generations of fans and viewers. His stature, expertise and personality working in the 18th tower alongside Pat Summerall, Jim Nantz and the rest of the CBS golf team will forever be synonymous with the greatest golf events on CBS.”

Venturi was elected to the Hall of Fame through the Lifetime Achievement category.

"If there is some sense of fairness, it is that Ken was inducted into a Hall of Fame that he very much deserved to be in and, in fact, should have been in for many years," Nicklaus said. "While I know he was not able to be there in person for his induction, I am certain there was an overwhelming sense of pride and peace that embraced Ken. It was a dream of Ken Venturi's that became a reality before he sadly left us."

Perhaps Nantz summed Venturi up best:

"He was one of the finest gentlemen the world will ever know and one of the greatest friends you could ever have," Nantz said. "He was a deeply principled man with a dynamic presence. He just exuded class. Through his competitive days and unequalled broadcasting career, Kenny became a human bridge connecting everyone from Sarazen, Nelson and Hogan to the greatest players of today's generation."

Venturi is survived his wife of 10 years, Kathleen, and his two sons. Matt Venturi said services were pending.

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