Hall of Famer Venturi connects golf's past and present

By Randall MellOctober 8, 2012, 9:00 pm

You can’t navigate through a half century of great moments in golf history without running into Ken Venturi at almost every turn.

From Hogan to Palmer to Nicklaus to Woods, Venturi was there one way or another.

If he wasn’t playing alongside these icons, he was calling the action as a TV analyst, the voice who profoundly shaped more than one generation’s understanding of the game.

That’s why it never felt right walking through the World Golf Hall of Fame without seeing an exhibit for Venturi.

That wrong was finally made right Monday in St. Augustine, Fla.

Venturi will join Fred Couples as the newest members of the World Golf Hall of Fame when the next induction ceremony is staged in May. Venturi, 81, was selected through the lifetime achievement category.

'The greatest reward in life is to be remembered, and I thank the World Golf Hall of Fame for remembering me,' Venturi said in a World Golf Hall of Fame release. 'It's the dream of a lifetime.'

Photo gallery: Ken Venturi through the years

Venturi articles, videos and photos

Venturi won 14 PGA Tour events, including the 1964 U.S. Open, his lone major championship.

“The last time I had tears in my eyes was when I won the U.S. Open,” an emotional Venturi said in a conference call after Monday's announcement.

Those who know Venturi know his failure to make it into the Hall of Fame through the regular voting process hugely disappointed him over the years.

While Venturi’s victory total fell short of Hall of Fame achievement in the minds of many voters, his career was too encompassing to be defined solely by numbers.

A giant spirit, resilience and impact were Venturi’s overriding qualifications.

Victory totals don’t measure the size of a man’s spirit, or what a champion has famously overcome. They don’t fully measure impact, either, not for a broadcaster who influenced how we remember so many of the game’s great players and great moments.

Through 50 years of golf, Venturi was a figure on the grandest stages, from his heroic march to the ’64 U.S. Open title in debilitating heat at Congressional Country Club to less heroic roles in epically blowing a chance to win the ’56 Masters as an amateur and in challenging Arnold Palmer’s drop/provisional when Venturi got beat at the ‘58 Masters.

When his playing days were over, Venturi became our narrator, the voice backstage who framed many of the game’s dramas.

How that happened is one of the sport’s most improbable tales.

If what you overcome is ultimately as meaningful as what you achieve, Venturi should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

The boy who grew up with a severe stuttering problem became CBS’ lead golf analyst for 35 years, his broadcast career spanning three of Nicklaus’ Masters victories, including the Golden Bear’s dramatic win in ’86, and Woods’ breakthrough ’97 victory.

As painful as his stammering was, Venturi believes it drove him to excellence.

Growing up, he would escape on lonely retreats to San Francisco’s Harding Park, where his father ran the pro shop. With no playing partners to worry about, Venturi typically played two balls, exclusively hitting draws with one and fades with another.

His shot making developed so rapidly he attracted the attention of Eddie Lowery, a San Francisco car dealer who also happened to have been Francis Ouimet’s 10-year-old caddie when Ouimet won the 1913 U.S. Open. Lowery encouraged and nurtured the young Venturi, steering him to Byron Nelson, who taught and mentored him.

Developing formidably, Venturi nearly won the Masters as an amateur in ’56.

Venturi led the first three rounds of that Masters, but stumbled to a final-round 80, allowing Jackie Burke Jr. to come from eight strokes back and beat him by a single shot.

Venturi insisted that Bobby Jones was so enamored with his bid that Jones told him he would have made him chairman of his Augusta National Golf Club if Venturi had won and committed to remaining an amateur.

Later that year, though, Venturi turned pro, and he made an immediate impression. He was touted as the next Hogan.

From 1957 to ‘60, Venturi won 10 times. He looked destined for even greater triumphs, but after sustaining back and rib injuries in a car accident in ’61, he slumped severely. By the end of the ’63 season, Venturi was nearly broke. His swing was wayward and lost, and he later conceded he was drinking too much back then. He swooned so badly he did not even earn an invite to the ’64 Masters and considered buying into a restaurant and leaving the game.

With Lowery’s help, and with so much work on the range he says his fingers blistered, Venturi bounced back in the run up to the ’64 U.S. Open. He found himself and his game, creating one of the most dramatic finishes in major championship history.

Wobbled by heat exhaustion in 100-degree heat at Congressional, Venturi looked like he might not be able to finish. A doctor treated him between rounds in the 36-hole finale. By day’s end, Venturi prevailed, but he was so weary he could not pluck his golf ball out of the last hole. Raymond Floyd, who played alongside, did it for him.

“I saw him fight and scrap to win the most coveted thing in golf,” Floyd once said. “It is one of the most heroic things I have ever seen.”

Venturi would win just once more in his career. A circulatory ailment in his hands forced an early retirement, but that led to his long second career as an analyst for CBS, which wasn’t without its challenges, either. Venturi recovered from prostate cancer later in his broadcast career.

Proud, sensitive and complicated, Venturi has a fighter’s spirit. He showed that again just a few years ago in the release of his autobiography, “Getting up and down: My 60 years in golf.” He created a small tempest reiterating his belief that Palmer beat him in the ’58 Masters after incorrectly playing two balls at the 12th green, one of them a provisional in Palmer’s appeal of an unfavorable ruling over an embedded ball.

“I firmly believe that he did wrong, and he knows he did wrong,” Venturi wrote in the book.

With controversy ensuing the excerpt’s release, Venturi insisted he wasn’t accusing Palmer of cheating. He said that Palmer merely played a second ball incorrectly.

Venturi’s book, of course, explored his rich story well beyond that incident.

Whatever qualities made Venturi a welcome guest in so many homes with TVs over the years, it also made him welcome among the game’s greats.

Venturi wasn’t just a Byron Nelson pupil. He was a close friend. Venturi also became so close to Hogan, he was a pallbearer at Hogan’s funeral. They weren’t even Venturi’s most famous connections, though. Venturi called Frank Sinatra a dear friend and a former roommate.

Running with the Rat Pack isn’t Venturi’s only strong link to pop culture.

Venturi was one of the central figures in Mark Frost’s excellent book, “The Match,” which detailed a famous better-ball showdown between amateurs Venturi and Harvie Ward and pros Nelson and Hogan.

Venturi also appeared as himself in the movie, “Tin Cup.”

When Kevin Costner, as the fictional character Roy McAvoy, decides to go for it in the U.S. Open near the movie’s end, he says: “This is for Venturi up in the booth thinking I should lay up.” In response, McAvoy’s caddie, actor Cheech Marin, says: “Yeah, what does he know? He only won this tournament before you were born.”

Venturi’s fame spread beyond golf with the release of that movie. Now, with Monday’s announcement, his fame is secured in golf’s hallowed halls.

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.