Ken Venturi, a San Francisco native who learned how to play golf at Harding Park, memorably won the 1964 U.S. Open and later built a long and distinguished career as a television analyst, died this afternoon. He was 82.
Venturi had been hospitalized for more than two months in Southern California. He developed infections in his back, pneumonia and later an intestinal infection.
His son, Matt, called The Chronicle with the news of his father’s passing.
Venturi had been living in Rancho Mirage (Riverside County), outside Palm Springs, for many years. He survived a bout with prostate cancer in 2000-01, had quintuple heart-bypass surgery in ’06 and encountered more heart problems in 2011.
Venturi was an accomplished amateur player, but his path to prominence as a professional included more than a few speed bumps. He overcame a severe stutter, weathered two crushing losses in the Masters, sustained lingering injuries in a September 1961 car accident and disappeared into a long, maddening, career-threatening slump.
So it seemed fitting, somehow, that his most triumphant moment occurred in trying circumstances, when he played 36 holes in scorching heat and humidity at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.
There, on the broiling Blue Course on June 20, 1964, Venturi became an enduring symbol of perseverance in winning the U.S. Open under brutal conditions. He shot 66-70 on the final day – back then, the tournament concluded with 36 holes on Saturday – to win his only major championship.
When his final putt dropped, sealing a four-shot victory, the magnitude of the moment almost stunned Venturi. He raised his arms, mumbled, “Oh my God, I’ve won the Open!” and began crying when he saw tears streaming down the face of fellow competitor Raymond Floyd.
Venturi didn’t just win the Open – he won it in unforgettable fashion.
“I’ve seen people over the years who not only tell me I won the Open, they tell me where I won it, what I shot and exactly what I did,” he said in an April 2011 interview. “There aren’t many Opens where everyone can tell you all about it.”
Venturi turned 82 on Wednesday. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame last week, in the Lifetime Achievement category, but he was unable to make the trip to St. Augustine, Fla., for the ceremony.
Funeral services are pending.