CBS golf analyst counting down to retirement

Updated: May 23, 2002, 5:26 PM ET
Associated Press

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Ken Venturi has uttered millions of words during his 35 years as a golf analyst for CBS. But as his final telecast nears, he best remembers a moment when he was left speechless.

Ken Venturi, President Clinton, Peter Thomson
Venturi's career included captaining Presidents Cup team, where he met with President Clinton and Peter Thomson.

A year ago at the International, Venturi watched as winner Tom Pernice Jr. scooped up his 6-year-old daughter, Brooke, behind the 18th green. A genetic disease had left Brooke blind since birth. In the midst of the celebration, Brooke's hands probed her father's face to feel his smile.

"I couldn't talk,'' Venturi said Thursday, his voice choking. "That's one of the things I'll remember in all my years in television.''

Such emotion was a constant companion for Venturi, who will be up in the tower for the last time next week at the Kemper Open.

He had been moved to tears as a player, breaking down on the 72nd green after winning the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional.

"I cry at groundbreakings,'' Venturi said with a laugh.

It was Venturi's willingness to display his emotions that caught the attention of CBS producer Frank Chirkinian. Venturi won 14 tour events and had 77 top-10 finishes during his career, but was losing the feeling in his hands because of a neurological disorder.

Chirkinian hired Venturi as CBS' color analyst for golf in 1968, offering a simple piece of advice: "Remember, it's not what you say, it's what you don't say. This is television.''

So Venturi learned to stay in the background and allow the pictures of Brooke Pernice tell their own heart-wrenching story, just as he did when Jack Nicklaus made his final-round charge to win the 1986 Masters or when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman in a playoff a year later at Augusta.

As a premier player himself, Venturi was able to offer insight into what the players were going through and what they were thinking -- without stating the obvious or resorting to maudlin sentiment.

"Kenny has a wonderful feel for people,'' said Jim Nantz, who has been Venturi's TV partner for the last 17 years.

Venturi turns 71 on May 15. A widower, he intends to live near his two sons and his grandkids in Palm Springs. He says he will have no difficulty loosening his grip on the game.

"I'm not going to sit in a chair,'' Venturi said. He'll build a few golf courses, do charity work and visit friends he hasn't seen for years.

He carefully planned his schedule this year so he could visit some of his favorite people and places: Arnold Palmer at Bay Hill, Byron Nelson at Las Colinas, Nicklaus at this week's Memorial, Augusta National and, finally, the Kemper, not far from the site of his U.S. Open victory.

If I had to choose to be anyone in the world, I'd choose to be me.
Ken Venturi

His legacy is that he wasn't a shill. He second-guessed Curtis Strange going for the green in two at the par-5 13th with a two-shot lead at the 1985 Masters. Venturi called it a bad decision before Strange hit it into the water during a last-day meltdown that cost him the tournament.

Strange and Venturi had an icy relationship for a long time but the years have softened both. Strange, now an analyst himself, recognizes Venturi's impact.

"From a TV standpoint it's been great for viewers -- myself included -- that the game had a voice that was very consistent over the years,'' Strange said. "I remember as a kid when Pat Summerall and Ken Venturi were doing a tournament, I always thought, 'This must be a good tournament.'''

Always, Venturi said, he tried to be fair.

"My bottom line is I treat every player the way I would like him to treat me if I was out there,'' Venturi said.

With Venturi behind the microphone, analysis of golf didn't just revolve around whether Tiger Woods was hitting a 4 iron or a 3 iron off the tee.

What was the player feeling? What are his options? What risks are there?

"He tells you not only what is going on in their head but also their heart,'' Nantz said.

Venturi grew up with a stammer so bad that his mother didn't think he would ever be able to properly pronounce his name. When he won the Open, he was broke and just about ready to return to San Francisco to sell cars.

Now, his tenure ranks as the longest ever by a sports analyst.

"If I had to choose to be anyone in the world, I'd choose to be me,'' Venturi said.


Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press