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But as you like to say, quoting our great friend Jack Whitaker, "Fate has a way of bending a twig and fashioning a man to his better instincts." How true. Had you won at Augusta in '56, would you have won a U.S. Open? Would you have the record for the longest-tenured lead analyst in sports broadcasting history? We might still have met up in Butler Cabin, but you would have been representing the club and I would have been there for CBS. Still, it worked out beautifully, didn't it?
Preparing for your induction, I was overwhelmed while considering the staggering amount of work you have done for others. For the blind. For people who have had stuttering problems like your own. For battered mothers and sick children. For black golfers like Charlie Sifford who couldn't get in tournament clubhouses way back when. For struggling players looking for help with their swings. For wet-eared TV broadcasters.
I will never forget what you said to me after my first Masters, in 1986, the year the Golden Bear won at age 46. (What a way to start. Big Jack! A hero to me then, and even more so now.) When that amazing tournament was over, you and I headed back to the CBS compound together. I had grown up listening to you and Pat broadcast golf on TV, and here we were. You said, "Son, how old are you?"
I said, "I'm 26, Mr. Venturi."
And you said, "Well, let me tell you something. You're going to become the first commentator to work 50 Masters tournaments. But you're never going to see a better tournament than this one."
You defined my career for me that day, in your inimitable, to-the-point way. And that, God-willing, Augusta-willing, CBS-willing, is exactly what I hope to do, keep working until I'm 75, at the 2035 Masters. Fifty Masters.
But what would you think about me coming back for one more Masters, in 2036? Why? Because Mr. Jack Whitaker himself once figured out for me that the 2036 tournament will represent the 100th playing of the tournament. That would be some way to go out, wouldn't it? And if I'm lucky enough to be there that day, the spirit of Ken Venturi will be beside me.
I got to the course early on Thursday of the Masters, to watch Jack and Arnold and Gary hit those ceremonial drives, and I thought about the time you filled in for Byron Nelson in 1983 and hit one of the opening shots. You nutted one off the tee, and you and Mr. Sarazen kept on going. I recall you shot 33 on that first nine, and I'm sure you wished for all the world that you could have kept going.
Seeing Arnold at Augusta brought to mind our moving Traditions Dinner at Bel-Air in 2007, when we honored Arnold and you spoke. That was a savvy audience, and I'm sure they knew that you had never made peace over the 1958 Masters, when Arnold won. I know that gnawed at you for decades. But on that night, you reminded people that Arnold Palmer made professional golf what it is today, and you gave Arnold a hug. That meant the world to me. I love you both. I feel there was closure that night, and I'm proud that I was able to bring you two together. That's how my father raised me, to bring people together. It pleases me to know you and Arnold will share space at the Hall of Fame forever.
I thought of you, of course, on Masters Saturday, when everybody was debating the best way to handle the mix-up over Tiger's second-round drop on 15. I know you would have been in the camp that said he should withdraw from the tournament, for the sake of golf. How many times did I hear you say, "No one person is bigger than the game?"