If it's possible to take a defining moment in one's life and enclose it in a display case, Ken Venturi did it last month at Congressional Country Club. Now every golfer competing in the U.S. Open can see the immortality at stake this week. The salt tablets dissolved long ago but most of what Venturi used to survive the debilitating heat — it was touch-and-go for a bit -and conquer the Blue Course to win the Open in 1964 now belongs to the club.
Each golfer can walk out of the locker room and turn right just a few steps down History Hall to see Venturi's recent donation: the irons he used in the tournament, his scorecards from all four rounds, even his championship trophy.
"I thought that someday they've got to go somewhere, and I'm glad I have the choice to choose where it goes," Venturi said this week. "What better place than at Congressional?"
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The club has commemorated Venturi's victory with a display worthy of his dramatic, exhausting triumph 47 years ago. That was the last time the final day of the Open featured 36 holes on a Saturday. When your champion has to avert death en route to the title, it's time to change things up.
"They realized it was not a marathon," said Raymond Floyd, a four-time major winner who was Venturi's playing partner that day. "It was a golf tournament."
It was more than that, though, on the scorching afternoon of June 20, 1964. Perhaps it's hyperbole to say that Venturi fought the Blue Course with one hand and death with the other, but it's not far from the truth.
Venturi, 33 at the time, hadn't won on the PGA Tour in four years and entered Saturday trailing leader Tommy Jacobs by six strokes.
The temperature was 97, a daily record high that still stands in Bethesda. Venturi began to fall out as he finished the first 18, on which he shot 66 to pull within two of Jacobs.
"People were just dropping in the gallery from being outside and dehydrating," said Floyd, now 68. "As a player, it was really, really bad. To this day, I don't think I ever played in conditions that were hotter or more oppressive."
Venturi lay on the locker room floor between rounds while Dr. John Everett, a Congressional member, had him drink iced tea with lemon and water with lemon.
"He says, 'I suggest that you don't go out. It could be fatal,'" Venturi recalled. "I looked up at him and I said, 'Well, it's better than the way I've been living.' And I got off the floor and I do not remember walking to the first tee."
Keep in mind the advances in how we combat heat-related illness. Golfers now can get bottled water on every tee box. Back then, Floyd recalled, there was a water cooler only every fifth or sixth hole. Venturi ingested 18 salt tablets that day. We now know that would have dehydrated him more.
He grinded out the last 18 holes with Dr. Everett shadowing each step. When Venturi made a putt, either Floyd or one of their two caddies retrieved the ball from the cup. They worried that if Venturi bent down to get it, he wouldn't get back up.
When Floyd handed Venturi his ball after the 72nd hole, they both had tears in their eyes. Venturi beat Jacobs by four strokes and, at minus-2, was the only golfer to finish under par.
A picture of Venturi moments after his victory helps anchor the display of memorabilia inside the clubhouse.
His white linen hat, no doubt soaked with sweat that afternoon, sits near congratulatory letters signed by President Dwight Eisenhower and Bobby Jones. Eisenhower noted the countless Americans cheering him on in his struggle to victory and wrote that "I was one of them."
Venturi, a lifetime honorary member of Congressional, donated the items to the club last month. The members hosted him at an unveiling and used the event to kick off U.S. Open festivities.
"This is the kind of stuff that to a club like ours where he won, it's invaluable," Congressional general manager Michael Leemhuis said. "He was kind enough to want us to have that."
And so the legend of Venturi's comeback persists, the prologue to another chapter of history at Congressional this weekend.
"In all my years of golf, that might have been the most impressive [finish]," Floyd said. "He just kept going. It was like he was on fumes. It was just destined to be."
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