Venturi part of Masters lore in 1958

Before his 35 years in the broadcast booth, Ken Venturi won 14 times on the PGA Tour. AP Photo/Roberto Borea

To a later generation, his claim to fame was as a broadcaster, his 35 years in the booth as an analyst for CBS all but dwarfing his golf career.

Ken Venturi was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on May 6 as much for his contributions on television as for his exploits on the course, which peaked with his 1964 U.S. Open victory at Congressional Country Club, where he overcame severe dehydration and searing heat during a 36-hole final to capture his lone major championship.

Venturi, who passed away Friday at the age of 82, had links to Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, taught the likes of Tom Watson and John Cook, and was friends with Frank Sinatra. He battled back from injuries suffered in a car accident to win the U.S. Open, saw his career cut short by carpal tunnel syndrome, and also overcame a serious stutter.

He also had several near misses at the Masters, and had a part in Arnold Palmer's first of four victories at Augusta National. It is a story that remains interesting, given the recent rules issues endured by Tiger Woods at the Masters, where he was deemed to have received a favorable ruling that kept him from disqualification last month.

Palmer also received a favorable Masters ruling that helped him win the 1958 tournament -- somewhat at Venturi's expense.

Palmer, who was 28 at the time and recently had won his eighth PGA Tour title, shot a third-round 68 to tie for the lead with Sam Snead. Palmer and Venturi, who was 3 strokes back, were paired for the final round, and Venturi trailed by just 1 stroke when they reached the 12th hole, the par-3 that is in the middle of Amen Corner.

And that is where a controversial rules incident occurred, one that is still the subject of debate today. Palmer's tee shot landed behind the green and plugged. Palmer believed he was entitled to relief -- under a local rule in effect that week -- because the ball was embedded. And Venturi agreed.

But the rules official on the scene, Arthur Lacey -- a former president of the British PGA and a member of the 1933 and 1937 Great Britain and Ireland Ryder Cup teams -- did not.

He ruled Palmer had to play without relief. An argument ensued, and Palmer eventually played the ball, gouging it out of the turf, hitting a poor chip past the hole, then two-putting for a double-bogey 5. Venturi had made par and assumed the lead.

Or so he thought.

Feeling he had gotten a bad ruling, Palmer announced he was playing a second ball. This time, with a drop to a clean lie, he chipped up near the hole and made par. The twosome played on, waiting for a rules committee to decide Palmer's fate.

Years later, Venturi believed that Palmer played the second ball incorrectly. He should have played the two balls concurrently and declared it at the time, Venturi said in his 2004 autobiography, "Getting Up and Down,'' and again in a 2008 interview from his Palm Desert, Calif., home.

"It could never happen today,'' Venturi said in the interview. "There were only five of us there and no cameras. I told Arnold he should get a drop, and that's when Arthur Lacey said it was half embedded. Well, that's like being half pregnant. It either is embedded or it isn't.

"But that's what he ruled, and when Palmer played the second ball, I told him you can't do that. You have to declare it before you hit it. Suppose he had chipped in the embedded ball?''

In Palmer's book, "Playing by the Rules,'' he wrote that he told Lacey he was going to play a second ball and appeal to the rules committee. But, Palmer said, Lacey wouldn't allow that, either. (The rules do allow for playing of a second ball.) It is possible that Venturi did not hear this conversation, as he elected to play out.

Palmer and Venturi went to the 13th tee, with Palmer convinced he was right and Venturi convinced he was right. The ruling didn't come until the 15th hole, and Palmer was given a 3, instead of a 5.

"There was never a question in my mind that I wasn't right about the 12th hole,'' said Palmer, who hit his approach onto the green at No. 13 and made an eagle and went on to win by a shot over Fred Hawkins and Doug Ford and by 2 shots over Venturi. "I was very confident that I was right and I played with that confidence.''

John Morrissett, a former director of rules of golf for the United States Golf Association, said he believed Palmer originally got a poor ruling, and perhaps the committee was trying to make up for that when it allowed the second ball to stand. According to Morrissett, it did not appear that Palmer played the second ball correctly.

If it happened today, Morrissett said, Palmer would have had to score the first ball. But the way the rule was written in 1958, there was some room for interpretation.

Venturi, who had finished second as an amateur at the 1956 Masters after shooting a final-round 80, finished fourth to Palmer in 1958 and was also second to him at Augusta National in 1960. That year, he won four times. Venturi finished his career with 14 PGA Tour victories.

He also played on a U.S. Ryder Cup team and captained the U.S. Presidents Cup team in 2000.