Less than two weeks after being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, former major champion and noted broadcaster Ken Venturi has died.
His son, Matt Venturi, said his father died in a hospital in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Venturi, who turned 82 on Wednesday, had been hospitalized the last two months for a spinal infection, pneumonia, and then an intestinal infection that he could no longer fight.
A native of San Francisco, Venturi won the California State Amateur in 1951 and again in 1956. In the latter year, he nearly won the Masters as an amateur, leading after three rounds before ultimately finishing second, one shot behind winner Jack Burke Jr.
The highlight of Venturi's playing career came in 1964, when he conquered challenging conditions, oppressive heat and severe dehydration to claim the U.S. Open title in a 36-hole finish at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md. After the final putt dropped, he said 'My God, I've won the U.S. Open.'
It was his lone career major, and served as the 11th of 14 career PGA Tour titles. His Open victory led Sports Illustrated to name him its Sportsman of the Year for 1964.
After his playing days were over, Venturi went on to spend 35 years in the broadcast booth for CBS Sports, retiring in 2002.
That he became a broadcaster was ironic, because he had suffered from severe stammering as a child.
''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 news of Venturi's passing spread, statements of tribute began pouring in from the golf world.
'I was very sorry to hear of Ken's passing,' Arnold Palmer said. 'He was a friend and an opponent and I had the utmost respect for him throughout his career. He was a great competitor and the golf world will miss him.'
'I was very upset and saddened to hear the news of Ken's passing,' Jack Nicklaus said. 'We all knew what a wonderful player Ken Venturi was, and how he fashioned a second successful career as an announcer. 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. All those in and out of the golf community will miss him, just as Barbara and I will.
'If there is some sense of fairness, it is that Ken was inducted into a Hall of Fame that he very much deserved to be in and, in fact, should have been in for many years. While I know he was not able to be there in person for his induction, I am certain there was an overwhelming sense of pride and peace that embraced Ken. It was a dream of Ken Venturi's that became a reality before he sadly left us.'
“For the second time in a month, the CBS Sports family has lost one of its legends with the passing of Ken Venturi,' said CBS Sports Chairman Sean Mcmanus. 'Ken was not only one of golf’s greatest champions, but also the signature voice of golf for almost two generations of fans and viewers. His stature, expertise and personality working in the 18th tower alongside Pat Summerall, Jim Nantz and the rest of the CBS golf team will forever be synonymous with the greatest golf events on CBS.”
'He was one of the finest gentlemen the world will ever know and one of the greatest friends you could ever have,' said Venturi's former CBS golf announcing partner and protege Jim Nantz. 'He was a deeply principled man with a dynamic presence. He just exuded class. Through his competitive days and unequaled broadcasting career, Kenny became a human bridge connecting everyone from Sarazen, Nelson and Hogan to the greatest players of today's generation.
'Kenny faced many adversities in his life and always found a way to win. When I hear Frank Sinatra's 'My Way,' I will always believe that Ol’ Blue Eyes was singing that song for his close pal, Kenny Venturi. It makes me think of him every time. On his farewell broadcast in 2002 I told him, ‘You will be, always by my side.' Five years later I wrote a book about my dad and father figures in my life. I named the book after that very moment.
'I'm so happy he lived to know he was going to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. I will cherish my 17 years working with him. But more than that, I will treasure the rich, personal, deep friendship that we shared for nearly 30 years.'
'The PGA Tour joins the world of golf in mourning the loss of one of its most treasured champions and ambassadors, Ken Venturi,' a Tour release read. 'His impact on the Tour and the game itself cannot be overstated. 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. 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.'
The World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Augustine, Fla., in a statement issued by Chief Operating Officer Jack Peter, said the U.S. flag at the Hall of Fame would be lowered to half-staff and a special tribute created in the museum in Venturi's honor.
'On behalf of the Members, staff and volunteers of the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum, we are saddened to learn of the passing of Ken Venturi,' Peter said. 'He was one of golf's iconic figures, and our thoughts and prayers go out to Ken's family.
'Ken made an unforgettable imprint on the game we love. He was a fantastic player, and captivated the nation with his thrilling victory in the 1964 U.S. Open. For 35 years in the broadcast booth at CBS, he was the warm, friendly voice millions invited into their homes to share his unique insights.
'When Ken learned he would be a part of the Class of 2013, he said, 'The greatest reward in life is to be remembered.' The Hall of Fame and golf fans everywhere will never forget the impact Ken had on the game.'
Battling a variety of health issues, Venturi was unable to attend the ceremony last week at the Hall of Fame, where he was inducted as part of the Lifetime Achievement category. Instead, Nantz, who was slated to introduce Venturi at the ceremony, accepted the honor on his behalf.
Venturi is survived his wife of 10 years, Kathleen, and his two sons. Matt Venturi said services were pending.
Doug Ferguson of The Associated Press contributed to this report.