Ken Venturi died yesterday at the age of 82. He won the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in stifling heat and nearly suffered heat stroke during the final round.
Even tough, Venturi was a former U.S. Open champion and top-ranked amateur golfer, he was best known for his 35-year career as the lead golf announcer for the CBS television network.
He witnessed and announced some of the best moments in golf history over his broadcasting career.
Venturi was runner-up in the Masters on two different occasions. After firing a record 66 in the first round in 1956, as a 24-year-old amateur, he eventually finished second to Jackie Burke. It was the best showing ever for an amateur player at Augusta National.
Finally turning professional later in 1956, he was one of the last great amateur players to compete against professionals.
Venturi was also one of the final links to some of golf’s great historical moments.
While still an amateur, he was employed by Eddie Lowery at his Lincoln dealership in San Francisco. Lowery had been Francis Ouimet’s 10-year-old caddy when Ouimet became the first American to win the U.S. Open in 1913 at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Ouimet, only 20 years old at the time and with Lowery at his side, beat the greatest golfers of the era, Ted Ray and Harry Vardon, both from England. This triumph has been immortalized in the movie “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”
Lowery introduced a young Venturi to Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan.
Byron Nelson became a mentor to Venturi and helped develop the swing that would make him a U.S. Open winner.
Hogan and Venturi became friends, as wells as competitors, and played many practice rounds together.
Venturi was also the last living link in one of the greatest golf matches ever played. Eddie Lowery initiated a high stakes golf match between the two best amateurs of the time, Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi, versus two of the best professional golfers of the era, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan.
The players were all assembled on the Monterey Peninsula for Bing Crosby’s Clambake and Lowery arranged a large wager with a wealthy golf adversary, George Coleman. The match was played on famed Cypress Point in relative obscurity, and the true details of the match did not become public until many years later.
Mark Frost’s book, “The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever,” was written about that famed 18-hole match played in California.
Venturi developed a friendship with Frank Sinatra that lasted throughout both men’s lives.
He was forced to take time away from his golf career and served his country in Korea as a soldier in the U.S. Army.
Although he was in the hospital recovering from surgery, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame earlier this month.
Ken Venturi had the opportunity to know and play golf on the finest golf courses in the world with players like, Hogan and Nelson. He was a top-ranked amateur and later a professional in the developmental years of the PGA Tour. Because of his friendship with Eddie Lowery, he provided a link to the early years of American golf.
If a man’s life is measured by the friends he makes and the company he keeps, Venturi’s was a life truly lived to the fullest and is legendary in the golf world.