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Ken Venturi dies at 82; golfer had dramatic win in 1964 U.S. Open

Suffering dehydration and exhaustion in 100-degree heat, he rallied to win by four strokes. He won 14 tournaments as a pro and was also a longtime TV commentator for CBS Sports.

May 17, 2013|By Gary Klein, Los Angeles Times
  • Ken Venturi sinks his final putt to win the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. Venturi lay on the clubhouse floor between rounds suffering from dehydration and exhaustion. Playing slowly and taking water and salt pills, he overtook leader Tommy Jacobs about midway through the final round and finished with a 70 to win by four strokes.
Ken Venturi sinks his final putt to win the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional… (Associated Press )

Ken Venturi, who won the 1964 U.S. Open golf championship in dramatic fashion and became a longtime television commentator, died Friday in Rancho Mirage. He was 82.

Venturi, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame earlier this month, died at Eisenhower Medical Center after battling a spinal infection, pneumonia and an intestinal infection, his son Matt said.

The U.S. Open victory was one of Venturi's 14 tournament wins as a pro. Though he suffered from a severe stutter as a youth, he worked as the lead analyst for CBS Sports from 1968 to 2002.

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"Doctors told his mother he will never speak," fellow broadcaster Jim Nantz said at the May 6 Hall of Fame induction, which Venturi was too ill to attend. "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."

Sean McManus, chairman of CBS Sports, said Friday that Venturi "was not only one of golf's greatest champions, but also the signature voice of golf for almost two generations of fans and viewers."

Nantz described him as "one of the finest gentlemen the world will ever know and one of the greatest friends you could ever have. He was a deeply principled man with a dynamic presence. He just exuded class."

Kenneth Paul Venturi was born May 15, 1931, in San Francisco and attended Abraham Lincoln High, which also produced future U.S. Open champion Johnny Miller. As a youngster, he sharpened his skills at Harding Park, a public golf course where his parents, Fred and Ethyl, ran the pro shop.

"We had three great public courses in Harding, Lincoln and Sharp," Venturi told the San Francisco Chronicle last year. "We had a lot of firemen, policemen and people like that who played golf. They taught you. And the city was really good about it; they let you play Harding and wouldn't charge you.

"They helped out kids. On weekends, you couldn't get tee times — so what they did with me and three other kids, they'd send us out to the second tee and say, 'When you see guys on the first fairway, get going.'"

Venturi won the California state amateur title twice and came to national prominence in the 1956 Masters. Though still an amateur, he led the tournament after three rounds but struggled mightily in the final round and shot an 80 to finish second.

He won 10 events in his first four years as a pro and finished second in the 1960 Masters when Arnold Palmer birdied the final two holes to defeat him by a stroke. But Venturi suffered back injuries in a 1961 car accident and also struggled with alcohol.

He made history, however, on June 20, 1964, in the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.

At that time, the final two rounds were played on one day. Venturi was six strokes off the lead when players teed off in temperatures in the 100s and stifling humidity. Venturi began shaking and felt faint on the 17th hole in the morning round but shot a 66 to position himself for a run at the lead.

Between rounds, as he lay on the clubhouse floor suffering from dehydration and exhaustion, a local doctor advised him that continuing to play could be harmful — even fatal.

Venturi's response: "Well, it's better than the way I been living."

Venturi, playing slowly and taking water and salt pills to continue, overtook leader Tommy Jacobs about midway through the final round and finished with a 70 to win by four strokes.

When he made his final putt, he raised his arms and said, "Oh my God, I've won the Open!" Then, after seeing playing partner Raymond Floyd in tears, he also broke down.

"I've seen people over the years who not only tell me I won the Open, they tell me where I won it, what I shot, and exactly what I did," he said in a 2011 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. "There aren't many Opens where everyone can tell you all about it."

Venturi's career was cut short by carpal tunnel syndrome. In 2000, he served as captain of the U.S. President's Cup team, which defeated an International team at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va.

Venturi was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in the lifetime achievement category.

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"The greatest reward in life is to be remembered," he said. "It's the dream of a lifetime."

Besides his sons from a previous marriage — Matt of San Mateo and Tim of Indian Wells — Venturi is survived by his third wife, Kathleen, and four grandchildren.

Services are pending.

gary.klein@latimes.com

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