Renowned sports writer Dan Jenkins spent a lifetime doing what he loved
ORLANDO, Fla. — Dan Jenkins, a self-proclaimed typewriter junkie who covered more Masters Tournaments than anyone, always cut to the heart of the matter.
When Jack Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters at age 46, Jenkins wrote:
“If you want to put golf back on the front pages again and you don’t have a Bobby Jones or a Francis Ouimet handy, here’s what you do: You send an aging Jack Nicklaus out in the last round of the Masters and let him kill more foreigners than a general named Eisenhower.”
When Sam Snead captured the Masters, he wrote that the bald golfer “won the Masters on greens slicker than the top of his head.”
His stories were always accurate, poignant and funny.
Jenkins, who died Thursday night at age 89, was a giant in our profession, but always had time for small-market guys like me.
When Jenkins arrived each year at the Press Building at Augusta National Golf Club, wearing a windbreaker and his Hogan-style cap, we knew the tournament could officially begin. He covered his first Masters in 1951, the same year his boyhood idol Ben Hogan won his first green jacket. He was there from Palmer to Nicklaus to Woods, a record 68 in a row.
On a day when Barbara and I are deeply saddened by news of the passing of @danjenkinsgd, we were reminded of a Dan quote: “The message on my tombstone will be, ‘I knew this would happen.’ ” No, Dan could not leave a room without leaving you with a smile—even if he wasn’t trying. pic.twitter.com/lCZbP3IKdj— Jack Nicklaus (@jacknicklaus) March 8, 2019
The Fort Worth, Texas, native began working for his hometown paper while still in high school, and liked to say he went to college (his beloved TCU) with a byline. Jenkins parlayed his skills into a job with "Sports Illustrated," and he stayed with the magazine from the early 1960s to 1984. After that he became a regular columnist for "Golf Digest."
He also found time to become a best-selling novelist, with "Dead Solid Perfect," "Semi-Tough" and "You Gotta Play Hurt" among his best. He drew on his Fort Worth roots and his golf skills (he was a scratch player) to entertain his audiences.
He is survived by his wife, June, sons Danny and Marty, and daughter Sally, who followed him into the sports writing profession.
Jenkins covered 232 major championships, according to Golf Digest: 63 U.S. Opens, 45 British Opens and 56 PGAs in addition to his 68 Masters. He wrote extensively about college and pro football for "Sports Illustrated."
In 2012 he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, one of only three writers to be so honored and the only one to go in “vertical” as he liked to say.
It was at Augusta, though, where Jenkins really shined. He once quipped that he hoped to reach 52 Masters so he could say he had spent a year of his life in Augusta, but he achieved that and more.
“It’s so beautiful now, and I remember when I came the first time in '51 and I thought it was the most beautiful place in the world,” Jenkins once told me.
In his final book, "Sports Makes You Type Faster," Jenkins detailed the Grand Slam he achieved at the Masters. He started out in the press tent covering the Masters, then moved to the Quonset hut in 1953. When a new facility opened in 1990, writers dubbed it the Taj Mahal. It eventually gave way to the mammoth Press Building that opened in 2017, and Jenkins was the only writer who covered the year’s first major in all four venues.
Jenkins’ career started in the days of manual typewriters and Western Union sending reams of copy across the U.S., but he made the transition to the era of social media as smooth as switching from steel shafts to graphite. Jenkins was a must-follow at the majors and Ryder Cup and, with the help of a Golf Digest colleague, he exhibited his sharp wit in short form on Twitter.
In 1999, The Chronicle assigned me to do a profile on four pillars of the sportswriting community who had covered the Masters for decades: Atlanta’s Furman Bisher, Charlotte’s Ron Green Sr., Miami’s Edwin Pope and Jenkins. That was my first encounter with him, and after exchanging small talk I mentioned that he often referred to the 8th through the 10th at Pebble Beach as Abalone Corner.
“You really do read my (expletive),” Jenkins said.
That started a relationship that lasted 20 years.
During an interview at The Olympic Club in 2012 for a story on the 50th anniversary of Hogan’s Triple Crown season of 1953, Jenkins' insights on Hogan were fascinating.
“He was so meticulous in everything he did,” Jenkins said. “Clothing, food. One of the most interesting things you could do with Ben was watch him take a sandwich apart and put it back together. It had to be perfect.”
The 1954 Masters was among Jenkins’ favorite. Hogan and Sam Snead were battling it out, but a young amateur named Billy Joe Patton almost stole the show before finding the water at the 13th and 15th holes.
“Bob Drum and I were standing right there on 13 and he was in the rough,” Jenkins said. “Everyone wanted him to lay up. And he said, audibly so we could all hear it and quote it, ‘I didn’t get where I am by playing safe.’ And he got in the water.”
In the 18-hole playoff the next day, Snead nipped Hogan, 70-71.
“He played so much better than Snead,” Jenkins said of Hogan. “He missed two fairways and greens. Sam chips in on 10 with a 7-iron all the way across the damn green.”
It would be the last major win for either of them.
“Clairvoyant me, I wrote in the Fort Worth Press that this will be the last time we’ll see these two giants contending for a major,” Jenkins said. “I was a little bit wrong, because they did contend, but they never won another major.”