The next day I wrote that Moore, the cagey old Mongoose, had dispatched poor Bean with such consummate ease there was little he could say about the experience afterward. That was pretty much what the other writers wrote.
It was a different tour than it is today," said Arnold Palmer. "More camaraderie. The game was faster. There was a different breed of golfer. You knew everybody on the tour. It was not as large in numbers, but the quality of the golfers was just as good. Now, of course, there are a lot more good golfers, but the guys I was playing with were damn good. There's no question about that."
Nineteen sixty-seven was not a good year for Ken Venturi. His hands had gone numb because of some strange circulatory ailment, his marriage to a beautiful and charming woman was beginning to come apart, and his younger son had been seriously injured in an auto accident. But he had won the 1964 U.S. Open and he still had money, fast cars and a big house with a swimming pool in the same town, Hillsborough, Calif., that Bing Crosby lived in. He had always been a complex man, part small boy with an easily bruised ego and a sense that the world orbited around him, part old man with a wistful feel for the past, a nagging sense of loss and a carefully structured notion of how things ought to be.
Golf is not a game I care about, but Venturi in his prime was such a craftsman it was impossible not to admire him. His swing, they say, was among the best ever. He was not particularly large or strong, but he had an athlete's grace, a way of moving that the rest of us can only envy.
I had known him casually for a number of years, mostly during a time when no one outside the San Francisco Bay Area had ever heard of him. " Ken Venturi is going to be the greatest golfer in history," a friend of his told me one night when both of us were still undergraduates. "People won't even mention Hogan's name in the same breath."
That prophecy was nearly realized. Venturi was a child prodigy, an amateur who almost won the Masters, and he had risen to glory in concert with an even more famous golfer, Arnold Palmer. His rapid descent was, in hyperbolic sports vernacular, tragic.
I saw Venturi only a month or so ago at a football game. He seemed happy, adjusted, O.K. He lives in Palm Springs now. He has a new wife, a new life and he is the friend of Frank Sinatra. The boyish charm is intact. In his 40s, Venturi still speaks in the 1950s' college idiom: people are "out to lunch" or "way out in left field."
But on a night some seven years ago, when a friend and I had dinner at his house, he was burdened by an inner torment. The life he had carefully built for himself, the happy-go-lucky professional golfer's life, was disintegrating and he had no alternative plan. We had several martinis. We recalled old friends and we spoke positively of his future. His wife Conni busied herself with hors d'oeuvres and drink-mixing. Venturi likes bluff male companionship.
He brought a large manilla folder into the room. "Look at these," he said, spreading some letters on the coffee table. "Here's one from Charley Johnson, the Cardinals' quarterback. A smart guy, Ph.D., the works. He says I'm an inspiration to him. Me, an inspiration? How 'bout that?"
Venturi was like most of us who were reared in the '30s. Life remains a movie, a series of clearly defined defeats and triumphs, comebacks and upsets. It has beginnings and endings. The middles are what life is really about, but we see them only as fallow transitions to the time when we get the girl, out-duel Basil Rathbone or gallop, lonely and romantic, off into the sunset.