Veteran sportswriter Dan Jenkins heads for Golf Hall of Fame
It’s not so much that Dan Jenkins was surprised by the call he got from the World Golf Hall of Fame. It’s that he was able to answer it that shocked him.
“I thought you had to die first,” said the 82-year-old sportswriting legend for Golf Digest. “I’m working on that, too.”
Jenkins will become the third “scribbler” inducted into golf’s hall May 7 in St. Augustine, Fla., joining Bernard Darwin and Herbert Warren Wind. That’s a pretty good start to golf writing’s Mount Rushmore.
For many who have covered or read about the game, the common refrain since the announcement last year was “it’s about time.”
“I’m the third guy from Fort Worth; the other two are Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins went through the list of the 140 people other than himself in the hall.
“I figured out that I’ve known personally 92 of them,” he said. “I played golf with a bunch of them. Ate and drank with a bunch of them. That doesn’t qualify me to get in, but I think covering 200 majors does.”
Jenkins has covered 210 major championships for all manner of newspapers and magazines starting with the 1951 Masters and U.S. Open. He attended one other when he chased around his heroes as a kid at the 1941 U.S. Open at Colonial.
This week marks his 62nd consecutive Masters, tying him with the late Furman Bisher – who died two weeks ago at age 93 – for most covered. Bisher came to his first Masters in 1950, when Jimmy Demaret won his third and final invitational. Jenkins started a year later when his hometown hero Ben Hogan won his first of two in 1951. Miami’s Ed Pope started in 1949 but missed a few along the way.
“Over two martinis one night, (Bisher) confessed to me that he missed ’85,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins used to drive 16 hours nonstop from Texas to Augusta back in the day – “just me, my cigarettes and a thermos of coffee.” He fell in love with the place at first sight.
“I was awed,” he said. “I’d never seen trees that tall, and they were short then. Like everybody, the 10th hole was always the most beautiful hole you’d ever seen the first time you looked at it.”
Covering Hogan through the prime of his career, Jenkins once wrote a hole-by-hole account of how the Hawk played the Masters.
“The way he played 10 on the old rye, scratchy greens that wouldn’t hold anything, he drove with a 3-wood upper right on the hill and then you sky a 4-wood so it would drop straight down,” Jenkins said. “That was the only way you could hold the green. Now you hit 7-iron into it.”
It was to Jenkins that Hogan said you never go for Nos. 13 or 15 if you’re leading, never hit it close on No. 12 unless you miss a shot and never hit it on the 11th green unless you pulled it.
“They thought about things like that,” Jenkins said. “What do these guys think? I don’t know. They all had the heart and the competitive drive to make money and the drive to excel. Given today’s equipment, Hogan, Snead and Nelson would be right up there with these guys … The competitive heart transcends eras.”
He loved the days before stiff-arming agents and player-only areas when reporters had a chance to reveal the stars of the stage.
“I liked having to go up to the clubhouse and everybody’s locker was there before there was a champion’s room,” he said. “Snead sat over there and Hogan sat over here, and everybody stood on their head to talk to them. It was fun.”
Though he still loves the majors, Jenkins says he’s not as “amused with the game” as he was when his golf-writing collection The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate was published in 1970.
“No, because of equipment, corporate sponsors and the exempt tour,” he said. “Jason Dufner won $3 million last year and didn’t win a … thing. That’s what I find sickening. I want to go back to 60 exempt players, pay the top 20 spots and tell everybody else to go get a job.
“I’m a traditionalist for Christ’s sake, and plus I’ve been around forever. You take an unkind view of things when you’ve covered Opens forever and all of the sudden you can’t park and are consigned to a shuttle bus. We used to park at the clubhouse. And these players don’t (care) about us. They’ve got TV; they don’t need us to spread their fame and help them. But if you stay around that long, you’re going to see those changes.”
Though Jenkins once counted 127 silos on the shuttle ride from Milwaukee to Whistling Straits, he still shows up at every major to tell the story unlike anyone else can and still gets as big a rush coming to his 62nd Masters as he did his first.
“No matter what happens, it’s still a major,” he said. “It’s historic.”
A few years ago he joined the Twitter revolution, finding a new outlet for his classic one-liners.
“I’ve come a long way from lead, column and sidebar to tweeting – that’s a pretty nice span,” said the man who didn’t give up his typewriter for a laptop until 1996 after bypass surgery.
Jenkins was a pretty handy golfer, playing with Hogan 30 or 40 times when he was at his peak in the ’50s. Jenkins and a partner beat Hogan out of $6 one time when they shot 30 on the back nine. Hogan insisted he take the cash, telling him “never apologize for winning.”
“I should have saved them and had him autograph them,” Jenkins said of the singles. “But I spent it on a date that night.”
Though his favorite Masters moments include Hogan’s wins in 1951 and ’53 and the usual suspects such as 1986 and 1975, the ’54 Masters was “thrilling” for him even though Snead beat Hogan in an 18-hole playoff. Despite his allegiance, Jenkins was rooting for the story that wasn’t two icons dueling to the end.
“I thought Billy Joe (Patton) would be the greatest amateur since (Johnny) Goodman, so I was rooting for Billy Joe,” he said. “I was rooting for the story. And I missed the hole-in-one.”
Jenkins was out with fellow writer Bob Drum behind the sixth green when Patton got to the par-3 tee.
“I walked over to get a Coke, and there came the roar,” he said. “I came back and said, ‘What was that?’ Drum said Billy Joe made a hole-in-one. I asked ‘What did it look like?’ Drum said (gesturing), ‘Here’s the hole and here’s the ball.’ He was no man for detail.”
Despite breaking his collarbone and coming to Augusta in a sling this week, Jenkins keeps living his life’s dream. He despises political correctness and uninformed reporters who ask dumb questions, such as the guy who asked Claude Harmon after consecutive aces in the 1968 Par-3 Contest, “When was the last time you made back-to-back hole-in-ones?”
“I’ve never considered myself a novelist even though I’ve written a number of books and happily made some money,” he said. “I’ve always considered myself a journalist first or a sportswriter first and always will. That’s the business I’ve loved. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do.”
The Hall of Famer is working on his journalism memoir.
“It’s taking me forever and will be another year,” he said. “I wrote the first 40,000 words and said, ‘Jesus Christ, I’m not out of high school yet.’”
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