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Insights: Sports

Golfing legend and television commentator Ken Venturi reflects on a life on the links
Ken Venturi
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Hopper, Jan/Feb 01

(continued from page 1)

Venturi: My favorite course is Cypress Point. They basically have one set of tees there on most holes, and so the pros play pretty much from the same place as the members. Now, you see some courses being built where the designer says, "Well, I'm really going to challenge the pros." But what about the poor members who have to play the course all year long? If you do set a course up for the pros, amateurs can't play it. So, you could say there are already two standards. On the other hand, amateurs like to play what the pros play.

CA: Given those conflicting realities, are the game's two major governing bodies, the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA), doing all they can to keep up with the pace of the changes?

Venturi: That's a difficult question. They're trying to stay up with it, but I think they're getting outrun. There are so many legal actions that can be taken against you. If you're trying to not allow someone to do something, where do you draw the line?

CA: You have probably played every good golf course in the world. What do you think of some of the new courses being built today?

Venturi: In the United States, we play "up" golf. In Ireland, where I've spent a lot of time, they play "down" golf. The old courses over there give you multiple choices. Here, today, you are going over creeks, ponds, walls, bunkers just to get to the green. Over there, you might want to bump and run it, you might want to pitch it, you might want to hit a wedge. The old courses give you the choice so that you can use your imagination. Over here the prevailing concept says, "Here's this hole and you play it the way I tell you to."

CA: You lumped them all together: the creeks, the walls, etc. Would you describe the use of such obstacles as golf courses being tricked up?

Venturi: They call it beautification to make it look pretty because they're selling homes. It's real estate. You go around here and you find some average golf courses that have just got all those difficulties built in, and the average player can't play it because you can't carry it 160 yards over water. But I don't call that tricking it up. You're just taking the imagination away. You're eliminating the improvisation of shots, which I love. If I had to hit the same shot all the time, I wouldn't play. I always enjoyed turning it down, bumping it down, hit the riser, cut it in there, flick it in high, bring it in low -- those are shots I used to love, and you can do that on all the old golf courses that I used to play.

CA: No interview about golf today is complete without the Tiger Woods question. What do you think of Woods, and his impact on the game?

Venturi: He's just phenomenal. I've seen all kinds of players. I've seen them hit some great shots. But he does things that other people can only do sometimes, and he does it a lot of the time. Sometimes, you say it can't be done, and he does it. But not only is he outthinking everybody else, he's outworking them. He's on the practice tee all the time. He improvises. He's creative. And, then, on top of all that, is his length. I would have given anything for that length.

But I've been very fortunate that I have lived in an era that I wouldn't trade for all the money in the world. I knew Bobby Jones, and I was very close to Gene Sarazen. I was taught by Byron Nelson. Ben Hogan took me under his wing. I'm asked all the time to compare those players with Tiger Woods. You can't do that. You can't compare anyone from one era to another because everything has changed. The rules have changed. The equipment has changed. I believe that any player who is a champion would be a champion in any era he lived in because he would get himself to the level that he has to attain to win. Look at Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams or Rocky Marciano. It's hard to compare them to the stars in their sports today. The players today are bigger, stronger and longer. The only comparison you can make is that they were the best in their era.

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