The golf world lost a classy gentleman in Ken Venturi
Nothing against Nick Faldo (I really do find him entertaining), but it really hit home this weekend how much I miss the Ken Venturis of the world. Venturi died this past weekend, just a month or so after another legendary TV sports personality, Pat Summerall.
Summerall, of course, was best known for his work with John Madden, but I also remember him doing Masters telecasts with Venturi. And Venturi, of course, did those telecasts for 35 years before his retirement from television in 2002.
As a golfer and sports fan in my 50s, I knew these guys as broadcasters. The generation before me knew them as athletes. Summerall, of course, played in the NFL, and Venturi will always be remembered for that 1964 U.S. Open win at Congressional – 36 holes on the final day in the searing heat. He was a survivor, and has been throughout his life. In fact, for those who know him, his passing at age 82 (same as Summerall, ironically), is still hard to fathom. Because, it seems, Venturi always overcame.
As a youth, he stammered. There was a car accident during his playing days. Later, it was carpel tunnel syndrome that moved him from the golf course to the broadcast booth. He survived cancer, too. And in recent years, he battled more health problems. Despite those recent challenges, he rarely said no to an appearance request if could make it. He supported a number of charities, wrote letters of encouragement to complete strangers who faced health crises, and he was a tireless promoter of the game.
Most of us, of course, remember him best on those Masters broadcasts. To this day, I always think about his advice to widen one’s stance. His point, I’m sure, was stability. It was all about balance for Venturi.
As for his TV work, his is somewhat of a lost art. He let the ball do the talking, meaning Venturi never talked over the action. There would be a pause after a great shot before Venturi would chime in. And although audiences often disagree with the analyst when he’s critical, Venturi always seemed fair, never bitter about what could have been in his own career, which had its share of disappointments before triumph.
One of them, in fact, came at the Masters. As an amateur, he led the 1956 Masters after three rounds, until a final-round 80 derailed him. In 1960, he finished second at Augusta National to Arnold Palmer who birdied the last two holes. But in 1964, fighting dehydration and pressing on despite doctor’s advice to the contrary, Venturi broke through for his only major victory. At the end, he could barely walk.
Born in San Francisco, Venturi grew up playing golf at Harding Park and parlayed that into a great amateur career that included playing on the San Jose State University golf team. He said he took up the game because of his speech problems. It was the loneliest game he could think of, and he wouldn’t have to do much talking.
He overcame his stuttering, of course, more than anyone could have imagined, to become one of the great golf broadcasters of our time. And for his playing career, broadcasting and immense contributions to the game, he was finally inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame this year, just 12 days before he died.
Hospitalized the last couple of months fighting internal infections, he couldn’t make it to the ceremony, but friends and family said it meant the world to him. His sons Matt and Tim were there to accept, and announcer Jim Nantz gave an emotional tribute.
On Thursday, there will be a memorial in Palm desert, Calif., which will surely be well attended. Venturi had a lot of friends.
In memory to Venturi, the family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made the Loma Linda Children’s hospital, 11234 Anderson Street, Loma Linda, CA 92354.
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