Ken Venturi, golfer and broadcaster, dies at 82

May 18, 2013

Ken Venturi, who won the 1964 U.S. Open golf championship in dramatic fashion and became a longtime television commentator, died May 17 at a hospital in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 82.

Mr. Venturi, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame earlier this month, had a spinal infection, pneumonia and an intestinal infection, his son Matt Venturi said.

The U.S. Open victory at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda was one of Mr. Venturi’s 14 tournament victories as a pro. Although he suffered from a severe stutter in his youth, he worked as the lead golf analyst for CBS Sports from 1968 to 2002.

“Doctors told his mother he will never speak,” fellow broadcaster Jim Nantz said at the May 6 Hall of Fame induction, which Mr. 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 Mr. 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.”


Ken Venturi throws up his arms after winning the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda. He died May 17 at 82. (Wally McNamee/The Washington Post)

Kenneth Paul Venturi was born May 15, 1931, in San Francisco and sharpened his skills at Harding Park, a public golf course where his parents ran the pro shop.

“We had a lot of firemen, policemen and people like that who played golf,” Mr. Venturi told the San Francisco Chronicle last year. “They taught you. And the city was really good about it; they let you play Harding and wouldn’t charge you.”

Mr. 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 by one stroke to Jack Burke Jr.

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 Mr. 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. At that time, the final two rounds were played on one day. Mr. Venturi was six strokes off the lead when players teed off in the morning.

Amid stifling humidity and with temperatures above 100, Mr. 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 doctor advised him that continuing to play could be harmful — even fatal.

Mr. Venturi’s response: “Well, it’s better than the way I been living.”

Playing slowly and taking water and salt pills to continue, Mr. Venturi 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 Chronicle. “There aren’t many Opens where everyone can tell you all about it.”

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

Survivors include two sons and his third wife, Kathleen Venturi.

— Los Angeles Times