Jim Nantz accepts MGA award, praises Ken Venturi in gracious speech
By Bob Carney
Jim Nantz accepted the Metropolitan Golf Association's Distinguished Service Award at Westchester Country Club in Harrison, N.Y., with great stories and kind of an unusual request: He asked that late CBS partner Ken Venturi's name be added to the award along with his. Venturi, who worked beside Nantz for 17 years and who raised millions for charity in the Met area, died this May on Nantz's birthday. "I feel shortchanged that Kenny's not here. I know he would have been here tonight."
Nantz was honored for decades of assistance to the MGA and its First Tee chapter, and his founding of the Nantz National Alzheimer Center in Houston in honor of his father, Jim Nantz Jr., who died from the disease in 2008.
Nantz spent most of a charming acceptance speech thanking his mentors -- Houston coach Dave Williams, former President George Bush ("41") and, at the top of the list, Venturi.
He recalled how Venturi had come to Westchester 50 years ago down on his luck and about to quit golf and head back to San Francisco to sell cars for Eddie Lowery. He gave himself one last chance, accepting a sponsor's exemption. He finished 5th and began a comeback that culminated a few months later with the U.S. Open Championship.
Nantz remembered "as many as 70 dinners a year" he had with Venturi when his partner would inevitably ask the waitress for a Diet Dr. Pepper. 'We don't have Diet Dr. Pepper,' every waitress would reply, and Kenny would go, 'Oh, Okay, give me a Crown Royal.'
Nantz told the story of how "41," recruited him to be "an intermediary" when he invited Bill Clinton to play with him in Maine at Cape Arundel near the family compound. "We need an intermediary to keep the conversation from diverting to politics." A year later Bush invited Clinton and called Nantz again, this time suggesting that maybe Nantz could recruit a fourth.
"I think I've got just the guy," Nantz told Bush. "Tom Brady."
"Tom Brady the football player?" asked Bush. "Do you think Tom Brady would come up and play with us?
"I think your odds are good," replied Nantz.
The four played sixes -- three matches of rotating two-man teams. After one tie and one loss, Nantz welcomed Brady as his last partner with an opportunity to get even on the day.
"You've got a chance to do something no one has ever done," Nantz told Brady: Beat two former Presidents of the United States. "It was like a mask came over his face," said Nantz, and Brady was back on the football field, one minute left, two points down, the ball on his own 20.
"We won 5 up," said Nantz.
Clinton came over as the match ended and said, "You guys are pretty rough on a couple former Presidents."
"Welcome to the NFL," said the intermediary.
In a season filled with awards ceremonies, last night's dinner at Westchester proved that if you want them to stay for dessert, give the award to a pro. And it helps if he's a good guy.