Matt Venturi remembers his father’s promise. He was 7 years old, and before he headed for sleep-away camp, he pleaded with his father to build a swimming pool in the backyard of their California ranch house in suburban San Francisco. Ken Venturi told his son he’d build one as soon as he won the U.S. Open.
Ken Venturi smiles after winning the U.S. Open golf championship at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., June 20, 1964. Dazed and barely able to walk, Venturi staggered to one of the most memorable victories in all of sports in the 1964 U.S. Open.
Golfer Ken Venturi reacts to a birdie putt on the ninth green during the third round of the National Open (U.S. Open) at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., on Saturday, June 20, 1964.
Photo shows Ken Venturi during the 1964 U.S. Open Championship which was held at Congressional Country Club, (Composite Course), Bethesda, Md. He was the winner of the event.
Ken Venturi captured the 1964 U.S. Open title, getting his life on and off the course back on track.
Ken Venturi captured the 1964 U.S. Open title, getting his life on and off the course back on track.
“After his victory, I said, ‘Dad, do I still get the pool?’ ” Matt said.
Construction soon commenced, and Venturi added a special touch, tiling the pool’s steps with the words “1964 U.S. Open.” When Venturi won the Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., he was nearly broke, his first marriage was collapsing and he had been written off as finished. On a day when temperatures soared above 100, Venturi survived a 36-hole pressure-cooker and limped home the champion of the tournament he dreamed of winning all his life. It was his finest hour as a golfer.
Today, Venturi is one of the game’s elder statesmen. For nearly a decade since retiring from CBS, Venturi has been out of the public eye. He turned 80 on May 15. Approximately 100 friends and family celebrated the occasion at a party at Morningside Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., for a man who has led one of golf’s most fascinating lives: tutored by Byron Nelson (godfather to Matt), a regular golf companion of Ben Hogan’s and the man whom Gene Sarazen asked to deliver his eulogy.
Venturi won 14 times before injuries ended his playing career. To a younger generation, Venturi is better remembered as the CBS analyst who sympathized with Greg Norman’s collapse at the 1996 Masters and delivered an endless array of “Strokesaver” lessons.
Growing up in San Francisco, Venturi was an amateur sensation with a swing to die for and an ego to match his talent. When he bragged of winning a junior tournament, his father shot back, “When you’re as
President of the USGA John Clock presents the U.S. Open trophy to Arnold Palmer, left, at the Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Colorado on June 18, 1960.
Jack Nicklaus hits from a sandtrap on the 18th green during a practice round for the U.S. Open at the Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Colorado on June 15, 1960.
Arnold Palmer, left, winner of the U.S. Open Championship, congratulates Jack Nicklaus, the U.S. Amateur champion who placed second, at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Co., on June 18, 1960. Palmer won with 280 to Nicklaus’s 282.
A young Jack Nicklaus (right) clips everyone but Arnold Palmer at the 1960 U.S. Open.
Arnold Palmer’s only U.S. Open victory arrived on a final day for the ages at Cherry Hills in 1960.
The final scores at Cherry Hills left Arnold Palmer pumped up at the 1960 U.S. Open.
Arnold Palmer, left, and Jack Nicklaus are shown walking in opposite directions as they look over the first tee at the start of second round in the U.S. Open Golf Championship at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa., June 15, 1962. Nicklaus, who wound up with a 71 and a 72 for first round play, won the tourney with a score of 283.
Jack Nicklaus holds his trophies after winning the U.S. Open golf Championship at the Oakmont, Pa. country club, in this June 17, 1962 photo.
Arnold Palmer Ligonier, Pa., winner of the U.S. Open golf championship in 1960, watches flight of his tee shot on first hole at The Country Club, June 20, 1963 in Brookline, Mass., at start of the 1963 USGA Open. Playing in threesome with Palmer are Jay Hebert, right, of Lafayette, La., and Doug Ford of Brookville, N.Y.
Arnold Palmer responds in the usual Palmer manner to his birdie putt on the 16th at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., June 22, 1963, in final round of the U.S. Open golf championship. Palmer, Julius Boros and Jacky Cupit were all tied up for the title and will play an 18-hole playoff match here tomorrow
Julius Boros, right, poses with the trophy, after winning the U.S. Open Golf Championship, at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., on June 23, 1963. Next to him stands Francis Ouimet, former U.S. Open champion and honorary chairman of the tournament
Julius Boros poses with the trophy at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., on June 24, 1963, after winning the U.S. Open Golf Championship.
Ken Venturi hits the ball out of a sand trap during the U.S. Open Golf Championship at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., on June 20, 1964. Despite suffering from severe dehydration and exhaustion due to the 100-degree heat, Venturi went to win the event with a score of 278.
Ken Venturi makes the final putt on the 18th green during the U.S. Open Golf Championship at the Congressional Country Club course in Bethesda, Md., on June 20, 1964. Despite suffering from severe dehydration and exhaustion due to the 100-degree heat, Venturi went to win the event with a score of 278.
Arnold Palmer is virtually in tears as a putt for a birdie stays out of the cup on the 14th green during the final round of the US open in San Francisco June 19, 1966, in which he and Billy Casper wound up in a tie for first at 278.
Jack Nicklaus blasts from a bunker on the second hole at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J. during the fourth round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship, August 13, 1967.
Jack Nicklaus kicks his leg after sinking a birdie putt on the 18th hole to win the U.S. Open Golf Championship, June 18, 1967, in Springfield, N.J. At right is runner up, Arnold Palmer.
Golfer Ben Hogan is seen at the U.S. Open at Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, N.J., June 1967.
Arnold Palmer is surrounded by a quartet of New Jersey State Police as he is escorted to the press tent for an interview, June 16, 1967 at Springfield, N.J. He had just posted a 68 in today’s second round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship to lead the field at the end of two days with 137 score.
Arnold Palmer of Ligonier, Pa., right, sends sand flying as he blasts from trap near the 4th green in the opening round of the U. S. Open Championship, June 12, 1969, Houston, Tex.
Arnold Palmer, one of golf’s all time stars, lets out a big puff as he hands a club to his caddy during a practice round at the Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas, on June 10, 1969 where the U.S. Open gets under way Thursday. High temperature and humidity made many of the contestants uncomfortable as they toured the 6,967-yard layout.
Orville Moody holes out on the 18th green to win the 1969 U.S. Open Championship in Houston, Tex., on June 15, 1969.
In this June 16, 1969 file photo, Orville Moody holds the U.S. Open Championship trophy after winning the event in Houston, Tx.
Carving his way to victory — Orville Moody, former army sergeant from Killeen, Tex., had his share of trouble during the final round of the U.S. Open Championship in Houston, Tex., Sunday, June 16, 1969. Here he hits from the rough on the 12th hole during his charge to victory. Moody captured the event with a 281, one-over-par for the 72 hole 69th championship.
Lee Trevino reacts to a birdie putt on the 11th hole in third round of the 68th U.S. Open golf championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., June 15, 1968. Leader at the halfway mark is Bert Yancey, standing at right.
Lee Trevino holds his trophy cup after winning the title of the 68th U.S. Open golf championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., June 16, 1968. His four sub-par rounds of 69-68-69-69 tied the U.S. Open record of 275.
Lee Trevino is congratulated by Bert Yancey on the 18th green after sinking his final putt for a 4 and a 69 to win the 68th U.S. Open golf championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., June 16, 1968. Yancey had been the leader for three rounds. It was Trevino’s fourth consecutive sub-par round.
Lee Trevino reacts to another birdie on the 380 yard par four 12th hole in the final round of the 68th U.S. Open golf championship at the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., June 16, 1968. Trevino won the tourney.
good as you are, you can tell everybody. When you’re really good, son, they’ll tell you.”
Labeled the next “Can’t-Miss Kid,” Venturi suffered three heartbreaking losses at the Masters, in 1956, ’58 and ’60. Then, injuries sustained in a car accident in 1961 started a three-year slide, which had him on the brink of giving up.
In 1963, Venturi’s official winnings totaled $3,848. A major sponsor dropped him. The biggest indignity: He wasn’t invited to the 1964 Masters. Venturi might have quit, if not for his father’s tough love: “Son, that’s the easiest thing in the world to do. Anybody can give up. It takes no talent.”
That message and a lecture from a San Francisco bartender who told Venturi he was wasting his talent, got him off his barstool. The bartender poured Venturi one last double of Jack Daniels, at which point Venturi promised to quit drinking until he won again. He never stepped foot in that bar again; instead, he drove to California Golf Club, where he began staging an improbable comeback.
On Wednesday night, the eve of the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional, Venturi stopped at a nearby Catholic church. It was locked, but a priest opened the door for Venturi and he prayed. He received additional inspiration in the form of a six-page letter from the Rev. Francis Murray, then an assistant pastor at St. Vincent de Paul Church in the Marina district of San Francisco.
“If you would win the U.S. Open, you would prove to millions of people that they can be victorious over doubt, struggle and temptation to despair,” Murray wrote. “I truly think you are ready. . . . You are truly the new Ken Venturi, born out of suffering and turmoil but now wise and mature and battle-toughened.”
Venturi’s solid play the first two rounds was overshadowed by the brilliance of Tommy Jacobs, who shot a second-round 64 and led Arnold Palmer by one, with Venturi six back. The 1964 Open marked the last time the final 36 holes were played on Saturday. Venturi entered the picture by shooting 5-under 30 on the front nine of his third round.
Ben Hogan his trophy after winning the 1950 U.S. Open Championship at Ardmore, Pa. on June 11, 1950. Standing beside him to the right is Jame D. Standish, Jr., president of the U.S. Golf Association, and Hogan’s wife Valerie, left.
Ben Hogan hits out of a sand trap on the 12th hole during the third round of the U.S. Open at Ardmore, Pa. on June 10, 1950.
Ben Hogan, right, hugs his caddy, Dave Press, after winning the U.S. Open golf tournament in Birmingham, Mich. on June 16, 1951.
Julius Boros, left, is presented the trophy by Totten P. Heffelfinger, President of the U.S. Golf Association, after winning the 1952 U.S. Open Golf Championship, at Northwood Club in Dallas, Texas, on June 14, 1952. Boros put together rounds of 71, 71, 68, and 71 to post his winning 181 total.
Jack Fleck warms up before a playoff with Ben Hogan for the 1955 U.S. Open. Fleck shot a 69 to beat Hogan by three strokes in San Francisco.
Arnold Palmer, left, who shot a 67 in practice round for the 1956 U.S. Open Golf at Rochester, New York is shown with his caddy, Joe Cambisi after a round.
Tommy Bolt does an impromptu jig after sinking a putt on ninth green during the 1958 U.S. Open in Tulsa, Olka. Bolt would go on to win, he had a one stroke lead over Gary Player at that point.
Tommy Bolt waits for word that nobody had bettered his 283 score at the finish of the 1958 U.S. Open in Tulsa, Okla. Bolt would go on to be deemed the winner.
Gary Player plays his second on No. 3 at the 1958 U.S. Open Championship at Southern Hills CC in Tulsa, Okla. Player was 22 when he played in this tournament.
Golfers, from left to right, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Dr. Cary Middlecoff and Byron Nelson walk away from the second tee at the Olympic Club in practice round for the 1955 U.S. Open in San Francisco.
Ben Hogan, right, congratulates Jack Fleck, who beat Hogan by three strokes in an 18 hole playoff at the Olympic Club, Lake Course, in San Francisco, Ca., on June 19, 1955. The man in center, rear, is Isaac Grainer, president of the U.S. Golf Association.
Ben Hogan is seen during the 1953 U.S. Open Championship in Oakmont, Pa.
Tommy Bolt lines up a putt on the 11th green during the U.S. Open at Winged Foot GC in Mamaroneck, N.Y., on June 11, 1959.
“It was the greatest nine holes I ever played in my life,” Venturi said.
His hot play mirrored the heat index. The temperature climbed above 100 degrees, and the humidity neared 100 percent.
“It felt like a blow torch was aimed at your neck,” recalled Raymond Floyd, Venturi’s 21-year-old playing companion.
Feeling woozy from heat exhaustion, Venturi missed short par putts on the final two holes and shot 66. Between rounds, Dr. John Everett, a club member, took Venturi’s pulse and advised him not to play that afternoon. Told that playing could be fatal, Venturi responded, “It’s better than the way I’ve been living.”
The second 18 proved to be a test of stamina as much as ability. Venturi swallowed 18 salt tablets to ward off heat exhaustion. Everett carried a thermos of iced tea and placed wet towels around Venturi’s neck. A marshal shielded Venturi from the sun with an umbrella. U.S. Golf Association executive director Joe Dey walked stride for stride with a weary, heat-sapped Venturi, who lost eight pounds that day. After his tee shot on the 72nd hole landed in the fairway, Venturi asked a friend how he stood. He answered, “All you gotta do is stay on your feet. You’re four strokes ahead.”
But that was no easy task. “Hold your head up, Ken,” said Dey, as recounted by Venturi. “You’re a champion now.”
When his final putt fell, Venturi dropped his putter, raised his arms, removed his trademark white linen cap, and said, “My God, I’ve won the U.S. Open.”
Venturi had survived, but he lacked the strength to pick his ball from the hole. A teary-eyed Floyd grabbed it for him. Venturi shot 66-70 and a total of 278, the second-lowest aggregate score in U.S. Open history at the time.
That night, Venturi drank a glass of champagne.
Venturi’s playing career was cut short soon thereafter when he was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists. The surgery was risky, he explained to his father. “The doctor told me I may lose three fingers,” Venturi said. “My father said to me, ‘It doesn’t make any difference if you ever play golf again.’ ”
Isao Aoki of Japan putts on the green as Jack Nicklaus looks on, during the final round of the 80th U.S. Open Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., Sunday, June 15, 1980.
Jack Nicklaus smiles as he holds up his fourth U.S. Open trophy, June 15, 1980, in Springfield, N.J.
Jack Nicklaus lines up his putt on the tenth hole of the final round of the U.S. Open in Springfield, N.J., June 15, 1980.
Jack Nicklaus lets out his joy after he birdied the 18th hole during Sunday, June 16, 1980 final round of the U.S. Open Golf championships on the Baltusrol County Club course in Springfield. The king of goal has won his fourth U.S. Open title and already is looking forward to going after his fifth.
Tom Watson holds the trophy after winning the 1982 U.S. Open.
Tom Watson chips in for birdie on No. 17 at Pebble Beach en route to winning the 1982 U.S. Open.
Tom Watson hugs caddie Bruce Edwards after winning the 1982 U.S. Open.
Fuzzy Zoeller, left, shakes hands with Greg Norman during presentation ceremonies at the Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. on Monday, June 18, 1984. Zoeller defeated Norman in an 18-hole playoff to win the U.S. Open Championship. The two tied at the end of the regulation 72 holes forcing the playoff.
Fuzzy Zoeller holds the winner’s trophy after winning the U.S. open championship at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck Monday, June 18, 1984. Zoeller defeated Greg Norman in an 18 hole playoff to take the title after the two tied at the end of the regulation 72 holes
Golfer Jack Nicklaus waits his turn to putt as his son, Jackie, holds the umbrella on the third hole of the opening round at the U.S. Open Golf Championship in Southampton, N.Y., on Thursday, June 12, 1986.
Masters champion Jack Nicklaus walks down a fairway followed by his sons Michael, and Jackie who is also his caddy, during a practice round at the 1986 U.S. Open site at Southampton, N.Y. June 11, 1986. First round play was to begin two days later at the Southampton course.
Australian Greg Norman wears a Boston Celtics cap as he lines up a putt on the 18th green during practice round at the U.S. Open in Brookline, Mass.,, Tuesday, June 15, 1988. First round play start on Thursday.
Australian Greg Norman uses his putter to scratch his back during practice on Tuesday, June 14, 1988 in Brookline, Mass. at the Country Club for the upcoming U.S. open official play begins Thursday.
Curtis Strange, left, and Nick Faldo shake hands in Brookline, Sunday, June 19, 1988 after finishing the U.S. open with tie scores forcing a 18 hole Playoff round on Monday at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Jack Nicklaus is seen during U.S. Open action at the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., June 1989.
Lee Trevino, winner of the 1968 open, clowns around on the 3rd fairway of the Country Club course on Wednesday, June 15, 1988 in Brookline, Mass. during the final practice round for the upcoming U.S. Open.
Lee Trevino sticks his tongue out at the ball as he misses a putt for a birdie on the second hole of the third round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship in Southampton, N.Y., June 14, 1986. Trevino saved par on the hole.
Lee Trevino watches his chip shot from a wet sand trap on the second hole of the second round of the U.S. Open Golf Championship in Southampton, N.Y., June 13, 1986.
Venturi asked, “How can you say that?”
“Because you were the best I ever saw,” father told son.
At last, Venturi had received the parental approval he so deeply desired.
In June 1965, after missing the cut by 11 shots in his U.S. Open defense, Venturi underwent surgery on both hands.
“I asked the doctor if I would be able to play golf again and he said, ‘Yes, but never to your standards,’ ” Venturi recalled.
Seven months later, Venturi won his final Tour event, the 1966 Lucky International, played at Harding Park, the public course in San Francisco where he learned the game and where his father worked in the pro shop.
Venturi credits his U.S. Open victory with landing him the lead analyst job at CBS Sports in 1968. Venturi overcame a childhood stammer to broadcast the game for 35 years. He chose the Tour’s Washington-area stop, the Kemper Open, to bid farewell.
“It’s a city that has been very good to me,” Venturi said.
And a city to which Venturi will return for next week’s U.S. Open. He has been asked to present the winner’s trophy to the new champion at Congressional. After what Venturi endured in 1964, this assignment figures to be no sweat.