I Remember Ken Venturi, a Class Act
By Tony Farina
There are some people you meet along the way who make an impression that lasts a lifetime.
In my long career as a print and broadcast journalist going back to my Navy days, I’ve met and interviewed dozens of celebrities, public figures, political leaders, and many regular day-to-day people who make a living at a job that sometimes gets them into the news.
But about 20 years ago, when I was working as an investigative reporter at Channel 7, I spotted an item on the rundown that CBS golf analyst Ken Venturi was going to be at the Convention Center for an equipment show.
Now I didn’t cover sports at the time, but I wondered if we were going to cover Venturi’s appearance as he was a well-known TV broadcaster and had been a terrific golfer, winning the U.S. Open in near 100 degree temperatures in 1964 at Congressional.
In those days, they played 36 holes on the last day of the Open, and Venturi, who was suffering from dehydration, was warned by medical people that he was risking his life if he continued to play in the torrid heat.
But despite the danger, Venturi played on with a doctor following on the course with salt pills and water to keep him going (and alive). I remember watching him that day, and wondering how he could possibly go on in his dehydrated state. Not only did he go on, but he won the Open and I never forgot the courage he showed that day.
Now back to the golf show at the Buffalo Convention Center. I asked if we were going to get an interview with Venturi while he was here about things like equipment, the state of the game, and his own great story of overcoming a stammering problem as a young man to develop into one of the best sports commentators in the country.
I was told there were no reporters available to get the interview, so I said I’m going to do it because I admire Venturi, I play golf, and he was someone I respected from that U. S. Open win so many years before.
I grabbed a photographer and headed to the Convention Center. Venturi was busy dealing with people at the show, but he said he would break away to give me an interview and I talked to him for about 45 minutes.
No question was off limits to Venturi, from his Open victory to his career as a golf analyst. He even talked about his friendship with Frank Sinatra. In short, he was a terrific interview and a great guy. I remember him saying to me, “what else do you need. Ask me whatever you want, I’ll make time.”
After the interview, we shook hands and it was clear that we had connected. He was a regular guy, very gracious and charming, warm and engaging. Ken Venturi turned out to be exactly who I thought he was, a special person who made it big but never forgot his everyman roots.
Venturi will never be mentioned in the same breath as some of the golf legends, but he won 15 professional tournaments, including the Open, despite being plagued with injury problems throughout his career, forcing him into an early retirement.
But he was a terrific golfer and teacher, and had been friends with many of the greats of the game including Byron Nelson and Jack Nicklaus. It was my pleasure on that day 20 or so years ago to spend some time with him and he made an impression on me like few others.
When I learned of his death last Friday at age 82, only 12 days after his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame, I remembered that interview in the Buffalo Convention Center and said a prayer for him.
Ken Venturi was a special guy, and he will be remembered as long as the game of golf is still around. I hope he finds a course up there with ocean breezes, lush fairways, and fast greens. And I hope to see him again someday, on the course.
This column is for you, Ken. Thanks for the time you shared with me and I want people to know what a class act you were. May you rest in peace.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
May 21, 2013