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His son, Matt Venturi, said he died in a hospital in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Venturi had been hospitalized the last two months for a spinal infection, pneumonia, and then an intestinal infection that he could no longer fight.
Venturi died 11 days after he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“When dad did receive the election into the Hall of Fame, he had a twinkle in his eye, and that twinkle is there every day,” Tim Venturi said that night.
Venturi was all about overcoming the odds.
A prominent amateur who grew up in San Francisco, he captured his only major in the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional, the last year the final round was 36 holes. In oppressive heat, Venturi showed signs of dehydration and a doctor recommended he stop playing because it could be fatal. Venturi pressed on to the finish, closed with a 70 and was heard to say, “My God, I’ve won the U.S. Open.”
He had a severe stuttering problem as a child, yet went on to become one of the familiar voices in golf broadcasting. He began working for CBS in 1968 and lasted 35 years.
“We all knew what a wonderful player Ken Venturi was, and how he fashioned a second successful career as an announcer,” Jack Nicklaus said. “But far more important than how good he was at playing the game or covering it, Ken was my friend. Ken was fortunate in that the game of golf gave him so much, but without question, Ken gave back far more to the game he loved than he ever gained from it. Over the years, Ken developed a circle of friends that is enormous and whose collective heart is heavy today.”
Venturi played on one Ryder Cup team and was U.S. captain in the 2000 Presidents Cup.
“His tremendous accomplishments on the golf course were certainly Hall of Fame worthy on their own, but in Ken one finds a rare example of a golfer whose second career, in television, rivaled the legendary status of his competitive achievements,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said. “His unique perspective and poetic delivery as an announcer enhanced countless memorable moments in golf, making his voice and presence as in indelible as the historic tournaments he covered. Ken will forever be remembered as a consummate gentleman, and he will be truly missed.”
Venturi was born May 15, 1931, in San Francisco, and he developed his game at Harding Park Golf Course. He won the California State Amateur at Pebble Beach in 1951 and 1956, while serving in the Army in Korea between those two amateur titles.
His stammering problem is what led him to golf.
“When I was 13 years old, the teacher told my mother, `I’m sorry, Mrs. Venturi, but your son will never be able to speak. He’s an incurable stammerer,’” Venturi said in 2011. “My mother asked me what I planned to do. I said, `I’m taking up the loneliest sport I know,’ and picked up a set of hickory shaft across the street from a man and went to Harding Park and played my first round of golf.”
As an amateur, he was the 54-hole leader in the 1956 Masters until closing with an 80, and he was runner-up at Augusta National in 1960 to Arnold Palmer, who birdied the last two holes.
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