KEN VENTURI, who "won the 1964 U.S. Open golf championship in dramatic fashion and became a longtime television commentator," died Friday in Rancho Mirage, Calif., at the age of 82, according to Gary Klein of the L.A. TIMES. Venturi's son, MATT, said that he died after "battling a spinal infection, pneumonia and an intestinal infection." Venturi was inducted into the World Golf HOF earlier this month and worked as CBS' lead golf analyst from '68-'02 though he "suffered from a severe stutter as a youth." CBS Sports Group President SEAN MCMANUS said Venturi "was not only one of golf's greatest champions, but also the signature voice of golf for almost two generations of fans and viewers" (L.A. TIMES, 5/18). In Ft. Worth, Jimmy Burch noted flags at the HP Byron Nelson Championship on Saturday were "lowered to half staff," and players during yesterday's final round wore red ribbons in memory of Venturi. His death comes just one month after the passing of legendary broadcaster PAT SUMMERALL, who "teamed for years with Venturi as CBS’ play-by-play man." For golf fans, the Summerall-Venturi "tandem carried the same clout as the Summerall-JOHN MADDEN tandem on NFL telecasts" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 5/19). CBS Sports Coordinating Producer LANCE BARROW said, "I'm just glad we were able to get him in the Hall of Fame before he passed away. That makes me happy, even though he couldn't accept it and get the pats on the back" (GLOBAL GOLF POST, 5/20 issue). CBS' JIM NANTZ said, "You did it your way, Kenny. There will never be another one like you. Thank you for the ride. You have left a stamp not just on my career, Kenny, but on my soul" (CBSSPORTS.com, 5/17).
LEAVING A LEGACY: In N.Y., Richard Goldstein noted Venturi won 14 tournaments between '57-66 in a career "cut short by circulatory problems in his hands." Venturi’s "signature moment" came at the '64 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., when temperatures were "approaching 100 degrees, and the humidity seemed unconquerable as the players struggled to play" the final 36 holes in one day. Venturi "almost collapsed from the heat on the 17th green of his morning round but carded a remarkable 66." He was named PGA Tour Player of the Year in '64. Venturi is "survived by his third wife, KATHLEEN," and two sons, Matt and TIM. Venturi engaged in "many charitable endeavors while working as a broadcaster, most notably the Guiding Eyes Classic, an event in New York that included blind golfers" and raised more than $6M to provide dogs for the blind (N.Y. TIMES, 5/18). GOLF.com's Gary Van Sickle wrote Venturi's voice was a "comfortable one on the air as a broadcaster, especially because of his longevity." Van Sickle: "If you think golf announcing is more about comfort factor and familiarity than what is actually said, Venturi was perfect. He had his foibles and his annoying clichés, too, but the fact that he lasted in the booth forever attests to the audience's belief in him." GOLF.com's Mark Godich wrote Venturi "proved time and again that less is often more." Broadcasters in every sport could "learn a thing or two about the way Venturi did his job" (GOLF.com, 5/19).
RISING TO THE TOP: In S.F., Ron Kroichick noted Venturi "initially declined" late CBS Sports Producer FRANK CHIRKINIAN's offer to work in television, "fearful of looking foolish with his onetime stutter." But he "overcame those fears and became an on-air fixture for more than three decades" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 5/18). FOXSPORTS.com's Robert Lusetich wrote Venturi both "understood and accepted the secret of sports on television." His mantra was, "It’s not what you say, it’s what you don’t say." He would "joke that stammering taught him to be brief, but he was selling himself short." Venturi accepted that it "wasn’t about him; that golf was the star." However, some viewers said that Venturi was "too vanilla, too willing to toe the party line, too charitable with the players." He could be "guilty of sugar-coating" (FOXSPORTS.com, 5/19).
A FITTING TRIBUTE: CBS’ coverage of the PGA Tour Byron Nelson Championship on Saturday featured an uninterrupted 17-minute tribute to Venturi. Footage of Venturi’s HOF induction video was aired and Nantz spoke in the 18th tower with PEGGY NELSON, the widow of BYRON NELSON. He later talked with golfer JOHN COOK, who learned the game from Venturi. Nantz, who worked with Venturi for more than two decades, opened the broadcast saying, "This is not an easy one and it’s not going to be an easy one to get through, to try to be detached about someone you really loved. ... One of his biggest heroes was Byron Nelson, and the timing of Ken’s passing is remarkable in many ways, not the least of which is that this all happens the week of Byron’s tournament” ("Byron Nelson Championship," CBS, 5/18). CBS' Barrow said that the "only other time the network took that approach" with the opening of a broadcast was after the death of BEN HOGAN in '97 (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 5/19).