Ken Venturi, one of the best golfers of the 1950s and 1960s, practiced voraciously and unrelentingly. After becoming a star, he went through a horrendous slump in the early 1960s. Venturi told "Sports Illustrated" he practiced as much as 10 hours per day, without stopping for lunch, to repair his swing and confidence. Venturi, who was taught by Byron Nelson and mentored by Ben Hogan, took a page from Hogan's classic line "the secret is in the dirt." In his wallet, Venturi carried quotes from Hogan about the importance of daily practice. One of the quotes: "Every day you take off, it takes that much longer to be good." Venturi's work ethic was prominently on display when he won the 1964 U.S. Open to end a three-year slump. The final day 36-hole marathon was played in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. Venturi, suffering from heat exhaustion, staggered to the finish line but his swing never deserted him.
Venturi told "Golf Digest" he had "a terrible stammering problem when I was young, and as a result I spent a lot of time alone." Venturi often went to the golf course by himself and played two balls on each hole. With one ball he played a fade on every shot and with the other he played a draw. "By the time I got to the point where the fade and draw won about equally, I was a very good player," he said. Venturi recommends this type of practice for kids learning to play the game.
Off the Course
"Think about your game away from the course," Venturi told "Golf Digest." "Keep a putter next to your desk, grip a club while you watch TV. That's where the best thoughts come to you." At the 1950 Los Angeles Open, Venturi's swing was a bit off. He was swinging a club in his hotel room when he stumbled upon a swing move he thought might be the answer. He hit about a dozen ball out the balcony window to test the theory, then shot 63 the next day and won the tournament.
As with most professional golfers, Venturi used certain drills in his practice sessions. For the correct lower body movement, Venturi told "Golf Today" he used a "tug of war" drill, slowly taking his backswing and then downswing to waist high, where his caddie or partner would catch and hold the club. While trying to pull the club from his caddie's grip, as if in a tug of war, Venturi said, "instinctively the player will pull, leading with the legs and hips moving laterally. This will stimulate the proper lateral shift in the downswing." For putting, Venturi used and recommended a putting track -- two parallel boards or clubs lined up five or six feet from the hole. This helps your alignment, trains your eyes to see the line better and tells you if you are cutting across putts or pushing them.
Although Venturi played before the advent of sports psychologists, he practiced the mental side of the game too. He learned how to think his way around the course in part by talking to the greats of his era. For example, Gene Sarazen explained that he once lost a U.S. Open by playing the same hole badly in four straight rounds. "It didn't fit my eye," he told Venturi, who soaked up a valuable lesson. "Everyone has a hole, or type of hole, that just doesn't jibe with their imagination. The key is to make it fit your eye, even if it means hitting an iron off the tee and then a fairway wood to the green."
Hogan gave Venturi a useful tip for playing under pressure. Grip the club right at the top of the shaft so the butt end of the shaft barely reaches the little finger on your left hand. "Because your left hand won't feel quite a secure, you'll swing the club easily instead of with the fast violent action we're all prone to when we're under the gun," Venturi told "Golf Digest."