IRVING, TEXAS (AP) - Ken Venturi was a 14-year-old with a camera trying to get a picture of Byron Nelson when he first met the golfer who would become a mentor and dear friend.
“He was, like, getting under the ropes a little bit, ” Nelson’s widow, Peggy, recalled Saturday of that moment during the 1946 San Francisco Open. “Byron said, `Kid, could you move back under the ropes a little ways?’ And Ken goes home and tells his mom, I met the greatest man today, Byron Nelson, and he spoke to me.”
Venturi died Friday, in the middle of tournament week for the Byron Nelson Championship.
Venturi overcame dehydration to win the 1964 U.S. Open and spent 35 years in the booth for CBS Sports. He died at age 82, 11 days after being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
When CBS came on the air Saturday for third-round coverage of the Nelson, the first 15 minutes of the broadcast were a tribute to Venturi, who retired as the network’s lead golf analyst in 2002.
Jim Nantz, whose 54th birthday was on the same day his longtime partner and friend died, said it was “not going to be easy” to broadcast this weekend.
The death of Venturi came a month and a day after broadcaster Pat Summerall died, also at age 82.
“It’s been an unbelievable month to lose guys like that,” said Lance Barrow, the longtime CBS producer for golf and NFL broadcasts. “It’s a sad day.”
Barrow likened Venturi’s lengthy career as a broadcaster to Nelson’s surely unmatchable record of 11 consecutive tournaments won.
“There will be no one ever in sports television again that will have the run that Ken Venturi had,” Barrow said. “And will not come close to it, as an analyst in any sport, much less golf.”
Tiger Woods issued a statement Saturday saying that Venturi’s recent Hall of Fame induction was a “fitting tribute to a special person in our game.”
“He was a good man and the voice of golf for so many years,” said Woods, who isn’t playing the Nelson this week. “He will be remembered for what he did on the golf course and for his personality in the broadcast booth. `’
Ten years after Venturi was trying to get a picture of Nelson, he was a top amateur teamed with Harvie Ward against Nelson and Ben Hogan in what has since become known as “The Match.”
Peggy Nelson said that was an amazing day for the players, and that Byron Nelson, who died in 2006 at age 94, and Venturi would sometimes talk about different shots each of them hit that day.
She characterized their friendship as precious and talked about what it was like “to see Byron’s face light up whenever he thought of him” or when Venturi would call.
“I think that if Byron could have, he would have adopted Kenny,” Peggy Nelson said. “Kenny’s values were so strong and so wanting to help people as much as he could, because he knew that he was a very blessed man in the game of golf and that he was blessed to have so many friends like Byron and Mr. Hogan, and being close to both of them.”
Barrow said Venturi tried to do everything Nelson taught him, from never charging for a golf lesson “because Byron Nelson said don’t do that” to also checking in with the pro shop at a golf course before playing a round.
“This was a great thing that Byron Nelson told him, always go in and ask the pro who holds the course record. And if it’s a pro, don’t ever break it because that pro is there every day. You’re only there for a few days,” Barrow said. “That’s what Venturi was like.”
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