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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“Doctors told his mother he will never speak,” Nantz said at the Hall of Fame induction. “He will never be able to say his own name. That’s what drove him to golf, to sit on a range, beating balls, hearing himself in total clarity in his head, ‘This is to win the U.S. Open.’ And he overcame that with great will and determination, and became the longest-running lead analyst in the history of sports television.”
Venturi played on one Ryder Cup team and was U.S. captain in the 2000 Presidents Cup team.
As an amateur, he was the 54-hole leader in the 1956 Masters 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 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.
Venturi is survived his wife of 10 years, Kathleen, and his two sons. Matt Venturi said services were pending.