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"I can't do that, Ed," Venturi told him.
"What are you going to do?" Lowery asked.
"I'm going to turn pro," Venturi replied, surprising himself by the suddenness of his decision. "I knew by then how tough being a touring pro was, that it can be Heartbreak Hill," Venturi says. "But I was determined to test myself."
The testing was fast, and the harvest was lush. In the U.S. Open of 1957 he finished in a tie for sixth and won $840. For eight straight weeks after that he made money. At St. Paul he was 22 under par for four rounds, winning the tournament and its $2,800 purse. The next week he was 13 under par for four rounds in Milwaukee, and he won again. Another $6,000 went in the bank. When he headed for home he had won more than $18,000.
The next year, 1958, was even better, with four victories; 1959, with only two wins, was a slight recession, and 1960 was the most lucrative year of all, one that would have included the long-awaited Masters victory but for Palmer's eerie finish. "Another Byron Nelson. The next Ben Hogan. Better than Sam Snead," the papers said. Ken was tuned in but thinks he was not seriously affected. "I tried not to let what people wrote impress me," he says.
Ed Lowery remembers it differently. "The changes were not for the better," says Lowery. "Kenny had tremendous success, but he was not able to handle it. I had people come up to me and say, 'Ed, you're a friend of mine, and I know how you feel about Venturi, but I hope the s.o.b. shoots 100.'
"Kenny thought he knew all the answers, that he knew more golf than anyone else around. He might even have resented the fact that everyone said he was the creation of Byron Nelson. I don't know. Anyway, Kenny decided he had to lengthen his tee shot, so he took a more closed position. He thought he had to hook the ball in order to hit it as far as Palmer. He wouldn't listen to anybody. He wouldn't listen to Nelson anymore, and Byron was hurt. I remember one time I said to him, 'Kenny, have you got a dictionary at your house? Go home and look up the word humble—h-u-m-b-l-e, humble. You have no idea of the meaning of the word.' Oh, he was sore at me. He didn't even speak to me for a while after that."
It may have been the new hook, or it may have been something else, but Venturi stopped winning. Then, early in 1962, he suffered a strange injury. It happened during the fourth round of the Palm Springs Golf Classic. He was picking the ball out of the hole on the 10th green when suddenly he felt as if someone had put a stiletto in his chest. He managed to finish the round, but the next day he had to withdraw and go home.
For weeks thereafter Venturi could not raise his right hand high enough to comb his hair. Although doctors could find nothing specific, they tried cortisone and X ray and whirlpool baths and deep heat. Venturi kept playing, but his swing was short, flat and fast. "The faster I swing, the quicker it will be over," he told himself. Eventually the pain left him, but his swing was a shambles and so, in a sense, was Ken Venturi. He was a man not used to needing help or asking for it—and he did not ask now. In fact, he refused it. The unhumble loner, he fought by himself to try to regain his physical and mental composure in a sport that puts great demands on both. And so the bad months and the bad years stormed upon him; and that is how he ended up weeping happily over a third-place finish at the Thunderbird last June.
Two days after the Thunderbird Venturi shot a 77-70, passing 45 others who were ahead of him after the morning round, to qualify for the U.S. Open in Washington. Conni flew in from California to join him.