The entire sports writing world is in mourning today. The greatest ever, Dan Jenkins, has passed. Instead of writing a retrospective, with permission from Jayflemma.com and cybergolf.com (where the piece is actually NLE) we are re-printing Jay Flemma’s article celebrating Dan Jenkins’s enshrinement in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Dan Jenkins Eagles the World Golf Hall of Fame
According to legend, the great Trojan War hero Hector once rallied his troops with a short, but sweet pep talk. It was something along the lines of, “All my life I’ve lived by a simple code – honor the gods, love your woman, and defend your country.”
That pretty much sums up golf writer and Texas philosopher Dan Jenkins’s life in a nutshell: golf, God and country. Add drinks, country gravy, and cigarettes as needed.
On second thought, since he’s smoking those ridiculous Capri ultra-slims, we can scratch the cigarettes. He offered one to me once, and I asked him if he mistook me for Jan Stephenson. It made him laugh. I consider that a life accomplishment.
Now our great lion of a sports writer will be enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame, an honor he’s deserved for many decades, and one that made every golf writer from Sawgrass to Seattle and from Bangor to Baja stand up and cheer. He’ll be inducted in May, along with Phil Mickelson and Hollis Stacy. As such, he’ll be only the sixth journalist ever enshrined in the Hall, joining Frank Chirkinian, Bernard Darwin, Herb Graffis, Bob Harlow, and Herbert Warren Wind. He’ll also become just the first living writer ever inducted.
“I hope I live that long and that they don’t serve sushi tacos,” he quipped. Well sort of. I may have taken some liberty with the last half of that quote, but his hatred of sushi (and haggis) is well documented, and it’s Dan himself who once wrote, “If Jack and Arnie said half the things Bob Drum and I attributed to them, they’d have their own lounge act in Vegas.” Dan also joked that he wondered if the honor came with a braid and a saber, a reference to the ceremonies for the old British sea captains when they became admirals.
Dan Jenkins is the North Star by which all other golf writers chart their courses. There’s no one like him. Uproariously funny, an encyclopedic recall of stats and facts, laser-sharp analysis, and all Texas all the time, Jenkins is a role model, a confidante, a scholar and a Great Friend of Golf, (yes, Capital G, F, and G).
“I tell people, I think he wasn’t just one of the best sports writers ever but one of the best writers period,” said Sports Illustrated columnist Gary Van Sickle. “He’s been around forever, he knew everybody, especially Ben Hogan, and he was always right about what he wrote. Plus he’s one of the funniest guys who ever lived, with just a marvelous ear for the written word. His book “The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate” is the best sports book written, and the chapter on golf, “The Glory Game,” is the funniest piece ever written about golf.”
Van Sickle caught his breath for a moment and then started laughing uproariously.
“He’s also the King of the One-Liner. I remember when someone told him about the O.J. Simpson scandal, Dan asked, ‘If a Hall of Fame running back had to kill his wife, why couldn’t it have been Frank Gifford?’”
Indeed, Jenkins is the King of the One-Liner. Despite his age, he’s perfect for Twitter. Here are a few gold nuggets, some from his Twitter feed, some ledes from his column:
On Phil Mickelson’s collapse at the ’06 U.S. Open at Winged Foot – “It was the worst driving exhibition since the Greyhound bus ran into Ben Hogan.”
On Greg Norman’s collapse at the ’96 Masters – “Don’t jump, Greg. You have too much to live for. Think of your G-4, your yacht, your choppers, and your 6-7 Ferraris!”
On funny names of players – “I thought I ordered some freshly squeezed Joost Luiten for breakfast this morning, only to realize he teed off at 8:20,” and
“Constantino Rocca, contrary to reports, is not a forbidden dance.”
On the Tiger Woods scandal – “Miguel Angel Jimenez’s warm-up routine remains so suggestive Tiger is trying to stick dollar bills in his belt,” and “Hey, everybody over to Tiger’s after the round for Fruit Loops and cartoons.”
On the food at the British Open – “I’m going to take another stab at lunch before the leaders go off, but on my first try I couldn’t identify anything.”
Yet Jenkins is as prolific as he is quick-witted. Author of over a dozen books across numerous sports, most notably college football and golf, Jenkins has distinguished himself as a master of parody and satire. His ability to hold up the “Dorian Gray” mirror to anything and show its true and banal nature is unparalleled. It’s a critically important literary skill, one all writers could learn from.
His depictions of everyone from LPGA officials to players to PR and media, to player relations reps are not just uproariously funny, but they also serve an important purpose: they’re accurate. They remind us that the Tours aren’t lilywhite and if they don’t rein in the rampant “greed is good” and “cover-up” mentality that has infected other sports, they’ll ruin pro golf in the U.S. Jenkins knows that it doesn’t serve golf – as both a sport and cultural institution – to act in secretive ways, and to simoniacally use the game and its virtue solely as a means to turn the highest profit, and he reminds us that their position exists not only to insure the financial well-being of the Tours, but to protect the virtue of the game through a transparent and altruistic example of conduct.
And that gets us back to Golf, God, and Country. Through his characters, Jenkins is the voice of the Great American Sportsman. Whether it’s Jack Brannon or Bobby Joe Grooves or Kenny Lee Puckett, he speaks to the zeitgeist of the millions of hard-working, good-hearted golfers across America, and his heroes and heroines are good-hearted, family-valued, common-sense Americans who triumph over the craziness of a world going mad due to greed and pandering. Thanks for giving us a happy ending, Dan.
“He’s one of my heroes,” praised pre-eminent golf course architect Robert Trent Jones. “We shared a house in Hawaii and it was always a wonderful time, but it was especially cool watching him work on one of his novels while we were there together. It’s a great privilege to call him a friend.”
Golf Digest’s Guy Yocum echoed the sentiment.
“He’s not just my hero, he’s everybody’s hero,” Yocum recalled fondly. “He embraces all young writers – he helps them, he builds them up and gives them confidence.”
Then Yocum recalled one of Jenkins’s defining traits: his sense of history and his never-ceasing support of the best sports story on the leader board.
“He always roots for the best story on the leader board. He wanted the good players to win. There was a year at the Masters where the board was full of Larry Mizes or other people he found inconvenient. So going into the final round he’s looking at the board and it was close, but it was all no-names at the top. I asked him who chances do you like and he took a drag on his Winston cigarette and he drawled, ‘I don’t like mine.’”
Indeed Jenkins was famous for that and comments like “This leader board has more strange things than a pot of haggis” or “My editor will blame me for the unpardonable sin of Charles Coody” or “Brendan Steele just made double to surrender the lead to Jason Dufner. I’m calling Clint Eastwood to come fix this leader board” or “Mark Brooks was the kind of guy who looked like he might only smile if he heard the press tent was on fire” are quintessential Jenkins.
Then Yocum got a little irreverent.
“He’s a loud typer. He used to slide the paper in and slam the carriage, and whack the keys,” he recalls, laughing. “He’d type so fast, and nobody was better at the bigger moments. Some guys need time to get the story, but he’d find the defining moment and beat it to death, get the story done, and it was magical every time, especially when you consider that since 1951 more than half of his stories were written on a typewriter, not a computer.”
Indeed, it is magical watching Dan work. When my friends ask me about getting to work a major championship press tent with Dan Jenkins two stories leap to mind.
The first was during the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage and Jenkins was being introduced to the pressroom to celebrate the occasion of his 200th major championship as a golf writer. A bronze bust of him sat front and center on the dais, a stack of his new book “Jenkins at the Majors” lay behind that, and every seat in the room was filled with scribblers, deadline be damned.
After introductions, Dan was handed the mike to say a few words…
“Well, I hit it in the rough on one…” he droned, and the room fell to pieces in a heartbeat. Only Dan Jenkins could make an entire room of world-weary journalists laugh as one.
The other memory I love is when he steps outside, looks at me as he reaches into his pocket and drawls, “The smoking lamp is lit,” and out comes another of those laughable Capris.
So “Thank you Dan” – for everything throughout the years. Thanks for teaching us that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with laughing at your own copy while sitting at your desk in the tent. Thank you for simple truths like “We like people who like us!” Thank you for Texas, and the Horned Frogs, and especially chicken-fried Tiger. And thank you for being everything we could ever aspire to be. The only thing that surpasses your ability as a golf writer is what a great person you are.
How humble is Dan? You wanna know what he’s doing to celebrate getting into the Hall of Fame?
“I’m gonna sit home by the fire during the holidays with my family and watch college football,” he said. “I’ll watch every one of the games. I love it.”
“Dan was wrong about one thing,” said one writer when he heard that humble assessment. “There is one thing that was dead solid perfect – him.”
So that’s Dan Jenkins – an observant eye and a passionate pen, Golf, God and Country. Sounds good to me. And on that note, it is time for me to fly. My shapely-adorable’s waiting for me on the corner of Grand and West Broadway so I can take her out for Mexican Sushi – for real. She wants an avocado-jalapeno-mozzarella eel roll from Taka Taka, and if I’m late, she’ll dip my ass in batter and fry me for dinner. Oh well, three sake bombs and a Capri should kill the taste of anything. Right, Dan?
News and Notes
Dan Jenkins won the 1995 PGA Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award from the PGA of America and was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 1996. He won his first award in the Golf Writers Association of America’s annual writing contest in 1957 while working for the Fort Worth Press.