Venturi is not light on his feet verbally, never has been. During another commercial break Gary McCord riffed humorously about verbicide, the willful killing of a verb. Venturi doesn't get stuff like that. His talent is to keep it simple. During another commercial the conversation turned to Bobby Clampett's plans to play in a U.S. Open qualifier. "Just drive it in the fairway, hit it on the green, make some putts," Venturi said. "That's all there is to it." In other words, that's what worked for him. On air Venturi paid tribute to Pate, a former CBS announcer, by saying, "He's been a great friend, but he still has that beautiful swing." That doesn't mean that most of Venturi's great friends lose their beautiful swings. It's just the way he talks.
With Venturi's retirement, daily Tour life has lost its last link to an era that was both more glamorous and more rough-and-tumble. Venturi has been prominent in the game for nearly a half century. Francis Ouimet, winner of the 1913 U.S. Open, was Venturi's stockbroker. Ouimet's caddie in that Open, Eddie Lowery, was Venturi's backer when he played amateur golf. He was well acquainted with Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts, the founders of Augusta National. He was taught by Byron Nelson and played often with Ben Hogan. Many of today's players understand and appreciate how much golf Venturi's life spans.
"When I was growing up, the Masters marked the start of the season, and Ken was the voice of the Masters," says Durant, who knows Venturi as many of the players do, from a distance. "I'd stand over a putt and say, 'If he makes this, he wins the Masters.' The voice was Ken's. Then you get out here, and he's watching you play. That's a thrill. Sometimes you think, Boy, I hope he saw that one. Or, Please tell me he didn't see that one. I didn't meet him until I got invited into the broadcast both. You get to know him because you're playing well. It's something you have to earn."
The best work Venturi ever did was at the Masters in 1996, the year Greg Norman squandered a six-shot lead, and Nick Faldo won by five. Venturi was uniquely qualified to cover Norman's collapse. In 1956 Venturi, still an amateur, had a four-shot lead entering the final round at Augusta. He shot 80 and finished second by a stroke to Jackie Burke. Venturi knows what it's like to have it all slip away. He praised Norman for the dignity with which he handled the loss. When Venturi captained the U.S. Presidents Cup team, Norman was the headliner on the International side. When the USS Cole was attacked a week before the match, and 12 American lives were lost, Venturi urged his team to wear black ribbons. Norman had his teammates do the same. They are similar men, men who understand gestures and symbols. They both would have worn green jackets well.
When Norman was leading the Kemper through 36 holes last week, Venturi was openly rooting for him, at least during the commercials. But the Shark, now 47, faded on the weekend and finished 13th. On the final hole his approach shot looked like a beauty in the air. "He stiffed it for you," Nantz said to his partner, off air. But the ball took a bad bounce and finished 10 paces from the hole, and Norman needed three putts to conclude his weekend's work.
Norman retrieved his ball from the hole, looked up at Venturi and doffed his cap. Venturi stood at his open window and waved back. From a distance of 50 feet, Norman tossed his ball to Venturi. Venturi signed it and tossed it back. All Norman needed to do on the weekend was shoot a couple of rounds of 70, and he would have won on Tour for the first time since '97. But as he came off the final green, three-putt and all, Norman remembered Venturi. "That's class," Venturi said.
Forty minutes later Venturi was signing off for the final time, citing something his father, a man who sold net twine to California fishermen, told him as a boy. "The greatest gift in life is to be remembered," Venturi told millions of viewers. "Thank you for remembering me. God bless you and God bless America."
The red light went off. Venturi and Nantz hugged. The CBS crew, mostly working men in T-shirts and shorts, gathered under a tent and made a last toast in a weekend of many. Venturi wore his CBS blazer. He wore it as he left the course, was still wearing it when he returned to his hotel. For the first time, he'd be wearing it home.