Born in San Francisco, California, Venturi learned to play golf at an early age, and developed his game at Harding Park Golf Course and other public courses in the Bay Area. In the early 1950s, he was a pupil of Byron Nelson, and was also influenced by playing partner Ben Hogan. Venturi won the California State Amateur Championship in 1951 and 1956, serving in the U.S. Army in Korea and Europe in the interim. Venturi first gained national attention at age 24; while still an amateur, he finished second in the Masters in 1956, one shot behind Jack Burke, Jr.. Venturi led after each of the first three rounds in an attempt to become the first-ever amateur to win the Masters, but shot a final round 80 and relinquished a four-shot lead. Through 2014, no amateur has won the Masters.
Venturi turned pro at the end of 1956 and was a regular winner during his early years on the PGA Tour. He again came close to winning the Masters in 1958 and 1960, but was edged out both times by Arnold Palmer. After suffering minor injuries in an automobile accident in 1961, Venturi’s swing, and thus his career, began to slide. This slump lasted until 1964 when, for no reason even Venturi could fathom, he began playing well again. After a couple of high finishes, Venturi reached the pinnacle of his comeback by winning the U.S. Open in 1964 at Congressional Country Club, after nearly collapsing in the near-100 °F (38 °C) heat and humidity of the 36-hole final day. (The format was changed the next year in 1965.) He received that year’s Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Sportsman of the Year” award and PGA Player of the Year award. He played on the Ryder Cup team in 1965, and received the 1998 Old Tom Morris Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, GCSAA’s highest honor.
After 1964, Venturi’s career again took a blow when he was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists. After several surgeries his condition was reversed, but he was never able to regain his past form. After retiring from the Tour in 1967 with a total of 14 career wins, Venturi spent the next 35 years working as a color commentator and lead analyst for CBS Sports – the longest lead analyst stint in sports broadcasting history, made remarkable by the fact that he suffered from severe stuttering early in life. He retired from broadcasting in June 2002.
Venturi appeared in the 1996 film Tin Cup, portraying himself as a commentator at the U.S. Open, held at a fictional course in North Carolina. In one scene, Venturi is shown voicing his opinion that the film’s protagonist, Roy McAvoy (Kevin Costner), should lay-up on a long par-5 rather than try to reach the green in two shots. McAvoy, who has decided to go for it, is then shown saying, “This is for Venturi up in the booth thinking I should lay-up.” His caddy, played by Cheech Marin, sarcastically responds, “Yeah, what does he know? He only won this tournament before you were born.” Venturi described the actor and singer Frank Sinatra as his best friend and former roommate.
Venturi died at age 82 in Rancho Mirage, California, on May 17, 2013. He had been hospitalized for two months for a spinal infection, pneumonia, and an intestinal infection. Venturi is survived by his third wife Kathleen, two sons, Matthew and Tim and four adult grandchildren Peter, Andrew, Sara and Gianna. He was buried at the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Cathedral City, California.
- May, 15, 1931
- San Francisco, California
- May, 17, 2013
- Rancho Mirage, California
- Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Cathedral City)
- Cathedral City, California