1964: Venturi beats heat to win US Open

US PGA Tour | 2011 US Open | General | 14 Jun 2011

With the US Open returning to Congressional this year to host the national championship, Ken Venturi’s name will come up likely from time to time throughout the week. Venturi, who some might know best as the analyst for many years on CBS, won the US Open at Congressional in 1964. His story is one that few know much of leading up the fateful day he battled the scorching heat over 36 holes (it was the format back in the day) to win the national championship. Today, stars are born somewhat over night with the advent of hundreds of cable channels, the Internet and now social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. However, Venturi’s battles started long before he teed it up at Congressional.

“I saw ‘The King’s Speech,’ twice, and it’s the reason that I started caddying when I was about nine,” said Venturi. “When I was 13 years old my teacher told my mother, I’m sorry, Mrs. Venturi, but your son will never be able to speak. He’s an incurable stammerer,” he explained. “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 shafts across the street from a man and went to Harding Park and played my first round of golf.” Today, Venturi is a part of the Stuttering Foundation.

“When I was practicing, it was always the U.S. Open. And I always dreamt and always thought that I would win the U.S. Open. But I never dreamt I’d be able to speak or do television for 35 years,” he said.

Venturi experienced more adversity than his speech impediment prior to his US Open win. “I had gone through a bad accident, I was a passenger in a car in Cleveland in ’61 and was hit from the side,” he explained. “I was thrown almost out of the driver’s door.”

Venturi said the accident lead to tough times for him. “I went through a big slump,” said Venturi. “For five years I was favored or co-favored in every tournament I played, and then to go down. And I never gave excuses. My father always taught me that. Excuses are the crutches for the untalented. And I never made excuses at how I was playing (but) I was broken.”

Life wasn’t exactly going according to plan and then something happened. “I got an invite to Westchester, which is two weeks before The Open, by Bill Jennings, who owned the New York Rangers,” said Venturi. “If I hadn’t gone there, I’d have gone back in the automobile business with Eddie Lowry selling cars,” he remarked.

“And after the first round, Dr. Everett told me the story, I was laying next to my locker, and he says, ‘I suggest that you don’t go out. It could be fatal.’ And he said, I looked up at him and I said, ‘well, it’s better than the way I’ve been living.’ I got off the floor and I do not remember walking to the first tee. I don’t remember the front nine until I started coming into it. I got on the scale when I arrived at the course. I weighed 172 pounds, exactly what I weigh today. And when I got dressed and got ready to leave, I got on the scale and I weighed 164 pounds. I had lost eight pounds that day. I got through it, and I still get chills when I think about it. But it was a line I gave Dr. Everett, I had nowhere to go, better than the way I’ve been living.”

The excruciating heat didn’t help the matter for Venturi. “I had 18 salt tablets. You know what they said? That could kill you. Really. No one knew that I did it. But that’s what it was. Coming from San Francisco, what did I know about the heat?
“Dr. Everett told me to go back home and get my business in order. He said, you may lose these three fingers in your right hand because of gangrene. And I was looking for something to do. My whole world had turned upside down.”

Venturi’s story is one of overcoming adversity on more than one occasion, which in part is what the US Open often depicts over 72 holes. The player who can do that has the best chance of being the last one left standing, something Venturi knows a thing or two about.

This story courtesy of GolfBiz.

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