Ken Venturi couldn’t be there Monday, but the former Marco Island resident did receive what he always has said is his greatest reward — to be remembered.
Venturi was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine along with Fred Couples, Colin Montgomerie, Ken Schofield and Willie Park Jr. The 81-year-old could not attend. He has been hospitalized in Palm Springs, Calif., after undergoing surgery for infections in his back. His prognosis is good.
Jim Nantz, who spent the latter part of Venturi’s 35 years as CBS Sports golf analyst as his play-by-play man, presented Venturi.
“I love Ken Venturi as a friend and a mentor, and I’m heartbroken he’s not standing here right now,” Nantz said.
Nantz recalled Venturi’s deep belief — honed through mentorships from Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan — that no player was bigger than the game. Still, Monday’s honor is a dream come true.
“I know that being recognized in golf immortality, if you will, the World Hall of Fame, is something he could only dream of for a long, long time,” Nantz said.
Nantz described Venturi’s condition during his two months in the hospital as “some steps forward followed by a couple of steps back” but paralleled what Venturi has overcome in his life with making it through this latest obstacle.
“Here’s how I look at it: He stood there between rounds on that 36-hole finale at Congressional (in the 1964 U.S. Open) suffering from heatstroke,” Nantz said. “The doctors advised him to give up. He went out dazed and played, couldn’t even add up his own scorecard before Joe Dye said ‘The numbers add up, Kenny, just sign it and you’re the U.S. Open winner.’ He made it through that.
“As a young boy, he had a stammering condition that was so severe, doctors told his mother he will never speak. He will never be able to say his own name. That’s what drove him to golf, to sit on a range, beating balls, hearing himself in total clarity in his head ‘This is to win the U.S. Open.’ And he overcame that with great will and determination, and again, became the longest running lead analyst in the history of sports television.
“I believe that that young boy, Ken Venturi, and that champion golfer Ken Venturi is going to be on this stage next year, and I can’t wait to be here to see it.”
Monday, Venturi’s sons Matt and Tim accepted their father’s crystal.
“This is such an important milestone, and we’re sorry he can’t be here,” Matt Venturi said. “But we want to thank everyone who supported and were part of his being a recipient of this incredible honor. We also want to say thanks to the World Golf Hall of Fame, the good folks who have offered the opportunity for him to come back next year and be at this podium with Jimmy to do this. I know he looks forward to it, and will really bask in the limelight.”
Said Tim Venturi: “When Dad did receive the induction into the Hall of Fame, he had a twinkle in his eye, and that twinkle is there every day. Every day when I see him, that same twinkle. I’m just so proud of him. If he was here to speak tonight on our behalf — we’ll speak for him — but I know that he would end tonight by saying God bless all of you, and God bless America, and thank you.”
Schofield, Couples, and PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem also made a point of mentioning Venturi.
“Anything we ever needed from Ken Venturi he was always there,” Finchem said. “He was great to captain the Presidents Cup in 2000 and in the early years of the Presidents Cup. You may not be aware of this, but just last fall, last October, he participated as kind of the host, the story teller, and flipped the coin to kick off a reprise of the match at Cypress Point, which was the culmination of the $100 million campaign to get the First Tee on an endowed footing.”
Couples recalled Nantz, who had been one of his college roommates at the University of Houston, taking him to dinner regularly with Venturi and the CBS staff.
“I miss (Venturi) a lot, but I know Jimmy knew something was going on when he would get me these dinners ... and the stories Kenny would tell,” Couples said. “You’d wake up the next day on Friday or Saturday, and you’d be so jacked up to play these golf tournaments.”