“To come to the 18th hole,” Venturi said late last month, when he visited Bethesda as a guest of Congressional, “I look out there, it just brings out so many memories.”
He is 80 now, and the memories of that 1964 victory at Congressional — the first time the club hosted the Open — seem rote, told again and again at dinner after dinner. “I feel like I’ve walked all 72 holes with him,” said Jim Nantz, Venturi’s broadcast partner for 17 years at CBS and his friend still.
The abridged version is well-known. Down by six strokes going into Saturday, when the final two rounds would be contested, Venturi played fabulously in stifling, 100-degree heat. But as he lined up a short putt on 17 in the morning round, his body began to shake, and he felt faint. He finished bogey-bogey but still shot 66 to climb into contention.
Yet in between rounds, Venturi was so overcome by dehydration and exhaustion that he laid on the floor in the clubhouse. A local doctor, John Everett, advised him that continuing to play could be more than harmful.
“It could be fatal,” Everett told a prone Venturi.
That Venturi indeed got up, and indeed played, is part of golf’s lore. His memories are spotty. His playing partner, 21-year-old Raymond Floyd, had to pull the ball from the cup for him several times. But he shot 70 to beat Tommy Jacobs by four strokes.
“I think it’s just destiny, when you think something is supposed to be,” Floyd said. “Because he literally, from the back nine in the first round, was on fumes. It was incredible, the performance he put forth under those circumstances.”
Faced with hardships
The grainy footage of Venturi’s win will be popular on television this week, when the Open is back at Congressional for just the second time since. But the reasons Venturi got back up and played have slipped away, these 47 years later.
Venturi is remembered, now, as a success. His golf made him the 1964 Sports Illustrated “Sportsman of the Year.” Though carpal tunnel syndrome shortened his career, within five years of his Open victory he had a tryout for CBS that began a 34-year run as the sport’s lead analyst, essentially the voice of golf. To this day, he is still stopped in airports not because people recognize his face, but because of his smooth, low tone that sounds the same ordering a soda as describing a putt, the high-pitched stutter of his youth long since gone.