Saturday, May 18, 2013

To Absent Friends: Ken Venturi

Ken Venturi passed away yesterday at the age of 82.  As a PGA touring professional, Venturi won 14 times on Tour with his most notable win being the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Washington DC.....,

but he may be best remembered as the main analyst on CBS golf telecasts, including The Masters, for well over thirty years, working alongside Pat Summerall and then Jim Nantz.  I liked his "Stroke Saver Tips" (presented by Top Flite) on these telecasts.  He was inducted into the World golf Hall of Fame earlier this year.

I always enjoyed Venturi's commentary, although in later years he succumbed to crotchety status with a lot of "well-this-is-the-way-Hogan-would-have-done-it" type of comments.  when I was fortunate enough to attend a Masters practice round at Augusta National in 2002, I can remember walking past a tee box late in the afternoon and saw - and heard - Venturi holding court with a bunch of other guys, and while I don't remember any specifics, I do recall that there seemed to be a lot of carping about "these young guys out here on Tour these days".

Kenny's Open victory in '64 is always, and I mean always, described as "heroic" because it was played over 36 holes  on the final day (which is how the Open was conducted in those days) in searing heat, and Venturi was told he might die if he continued playing in said heat.  This story always gets told when Venturi's name comes up for discussion, and I always wondered about all of the other guys playing in the Open that day.  Were they also in danger of dying because of the heat?  No one ever talks about them.   

There were also two other notable events in Venturi's career, both at The Masters.  In 1956, Venturi competed as an amateur and led the Tournament after three rounds, but shot an 80 on the final day and ended up finishing second.  In 1960, Venturi was competing for the Championship and playing with Arnold Palmer on the final day.  I believe it was on Augusta's famous Par 3 12th hole, Palmer received a favorable ruling over an embedded ball that enabled him to avoid a two stroke penalty.  Palmer went on the win the tournament.  Venturi finished second, and he never made a secret over the fact that he thought that he got a raw deal and that if the other golfer was anyone else except Arnold Palmer, the ruling would not have gone the way that it did.

However, if you want to learn about something really fascinating about Ken Venturi, read a book called "The Match" by Mark Frost.

In 1956, Venturi and a fellow named Harvie Ward were the two best - by a long shot - amateur golfers in the country, and they engaged in a in a best ball match play Match against pros Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson at Cypress Point in California.  The bet was for $100 per man.  How the match came about is part of the story, and the golf played during the match was amazing.  Hogan shot 63, Venturi 64, Ward 66, and Nelson 67, and the Hogan/Nelson team won the match on the 18th hole.  In settling the scores both Hogan and Nelson declined to accept the hundred bucks each from Venturi and Ward.   It is a terrific book about an absolutely amazing round of golf.

The other part of the story, and what makes the book worth reading is to learn the story of Harvie Ward, about whom I knew nothing until I read this book, and what befell him in the years following The Match.  I won't begin to try and describe it, but It is a story that is almost Shakespearian in it's scope.

RIP Ken Venturi.

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