Dr. John Everett missed the mark by only 49 years, but in the good doctor’s defense he never could have known how much fight Ken Venturi harbored within his slight frame.
Everett was a member at Congressional Country Club and the physician summoned to examine Venturi 54 holes into the 1964 U.S. Open. At the time, Venturi was two strokes behind front-runner Tommy Jacobs and deep in the throes of heat exhaustion.
With temperatures hovering above 100 degrees, Everett advised Venturi that he could be risking his health if he played the final 18 holes.
Of course, Venturi ignored Everett, endured all that Mother Nature, Congressional’s Blue Course and the USGA could throw at him and won the '64 Open, the 11th of 14th PGA Tour victories and his only major championship.
On Friday, Venturi’s incredible ride ended. The California native, who was recently hospitalized with an infection following a surgical procedure, died just two days after turning 82 and 11 days after being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
On May 6 at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, CBS Sports’ Jim Nantz, Venturi’s longtime broadcast partner who accepted the honor on his behalf because Venturi was unable to travel to the ceremony, called him “the walking embodiment of the sport and all its virtues.”
Although Venturi’s career was cut short by a series of injuries, including Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, his resume went well beyond that of a former-player-turned-broadcaster.
In 1956, he held the 54-hole lead at the Masters as an amateur and in 1960 he lost to Arnold Palmer by a stroke after the King finished birdie-birdie.
“I was very sorry to hear of Ken's passing,” Palmer said Friday in a statement. “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.”
A back injury in 1962 nearly ruined a swing that Byron Nelson had groomed to near perfection, but Venturi would go on to win four more titles.
When his injuries proved to be too debilitating, Venturi began a broadcast career with CBS Sports that lasted 35 years, the longest tenure ever for a lead broadcaster, and before retiring in 2002 he captained the United States to victory at the 2000 Presidents Cup at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in northern Virginia.
“I don’t know of anybody in golf that transcended all aspects of the game the way he did,” said John Cook, who had been mentored by Venturi since he was 14. “Through his playing career and then through broadcasting and the credibility he brought to that. The body of work that Ken put together in this game is second to none, it really is.”
When it was announced last October that he had been voted into the Hall of Fame via the Lifetime Achievement category, Venturi said he cried for the first time since winning the 1964 U.S. Open.
“The greatest reward in life is to be remembered. It’s the dream of a lifetime,” he said.
But it was that scorching day in June 1964 that will be remembered. When Everett advised him after the third round that he was in danger of suffering heat stroke if he kept playing, Venturi shrugged, “I’ve got nowhere else to go.”
By the time Venturi reached the turn at Congressional he’d caught Jacobs, although the heat was clearly taking a toll, and he pulled three strokes clear with a birdie at the 13th hole.
“Although the weariness showed as he moved from shot to shot, there was nothing frail about the way he struck the ball,” Alfred Wright wrote in the June 29, 1964, edition of Sports Illustrated.
Everett walked all 18 holes with Venturi that afternoon, feeding him a dozen salt tablets while the crowds emboldened him with not-so-faint praise. When the final putt dropped for a four-stroke victory he finally allowed himself to succumb to emotion, if not exhaustion.
“I had told myself that I was going to keep control of myself, that I wasn't going to get emotional,” Venturi said. “Then Ray Floyd came over to shake my hand and he was crying. So I started crying too.”
On Friday, all golf shed a collective tear.