When Ken Venturi announced six years ago that he was leaving Marco Island for his home state of California, he said he was going “full circle.’’
On Monday, that circle came back around again. Venturi, the 76-year-old former U.S. Open champion and longtime CBS Sports golf analyst, was back for the 19th Bill Owen Golf Classic at Eagle Creek Country Club near Marco Island.
“It’s such an honor to have everybody be so happy to see me and welcome me back,’’ said Venturi, who was accompanied by his wife, Kathleen, whom he met while undergoing treatment for prostate cancer in 2001.
“I told my father one time ... I wanted to be somebody, make something of myself. He said ‘I’ll always pray for you to be somebody, but I’ll pray more that you never forget where you came from. That’s why I came back here, because I can’t forget where this all started, and where I came from.’’
In many ways, Venturi was lucky to be able to come back. He had a mild heart attack and underwent a quintuple-bypass on Dec. 1, 2006 at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
“Dr. (Joseph) Wilson, who’s the (chief of cardiology), was on vacation and he said ‘No one’s touching him but me’ ... and he came back from vacation,’’ Venturi said.
The surgery prevented Venturi from a scheduled return in January 2007 for the Bill Owen, when Southwest Florida Golf Charities, Inc., the tournament’s charitable arm, would go over the $1 million mark in total contributions.
“Why don’t we invite him back this year?’’ Irv Sherwood, the president of the charity, asked the board of directors. “Everybody said ‘That’s a heck of a good idea.’’’
Venturi and his wife Beau came to Marco Island in 1976. Beau passed away from cancer in 1997, and when Venturi left five years later, they left quite a legacy.
Venturi was part of the Marco Political Action Committee, which helped the island gain cityhood. He was named Marco Island’s Citizen of the Year in 1999.
And he brought 22 PGA Tour pros that same year to Eagle Creek to raise money for a new Shelter For Abused Women of Collier County.
Venturi made his home at Eagle Creek Country Club and had redesigned the golf course there in 1999 as well.
A plaque and bust in his honor near the first tee were unveiled in 2000.
For many Eagle Creek members, Monday’s appearance was the first time to see Venturi in person.
“We have a lot of new members now,’’ said Sherwood, who also is an Eagle Creek member. “The only thing they have of him is that bust right there.’’
The 62 foursomes who played in the Bill Owen got to see more than Venturi. He gave each of the golfers a tape of his golf tips as a gift.
In 2000, Venturi gave some tips to the tour’s best, when he captained the United States team to a 18 1/2-9 1/2 rout in the Presidents Cup. Then, Venturi relished showing the top tour pros — who knew him only as an announcer — the makeup that gave him 14 tour titles, including the 1964 U.S. Open.
“They didn’t play against me,’’ Venturi said. “They knew me as a television announcer, but they never saw my competitive side. They were in awe. Phil Mickelson said, ‘You guys have never seen anything like this guy.’’’
Venturi still follows golf, especially the majors, but even though he’s only been away from the booth for 5 1/2 years, he marveled at the changing faces in the game.
“I really don’t know many of these kids anymore,’’ he said. “They could walk in my front door and I wouldn’t know who they were.’’
But on Monday, everybody knew who Venturi was. Or wanted to find out.