FORT WORTH, TEXAS | When Dan Jenkins became only the third sportswriter inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, he proudly noted he joined two other Fort Worth natives – Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, a Texas duo who mastered golf clubs the way Dan controlled a keyboard. On Friday, at Christ Chapel Bible Church in his beloved hometown, friends and family said so long to His Ownself, who on March 7 reunited with Hogan and Nelson at the age of 90.
Jenkins’ story ended where it began, in the once rough-and-tumble cow town that always has proudly lived in the shadow of Dallas. This was where he was born, raised, went to high school, college and got his first writing job (at The Fort Worth Press) while still a teenager. On a bright, sunny day, as more than a thousand people crowded into church to pay their respects, the flags at Texas Christian University and Colonial Country Club were at half-staff, honoring their native son.
Among those on hand were at least two generations of sportswriters inspired by Jenkins. He was, said Dr. Ted Kitchens, the minister who officiated, “A tall tree in a forest of men.” A string quartet ushered in those who came to honor Jenkins. And Linnea Allen – whose name Dan could not pronounce, so he told her: “You’re Swedish, so I’m just going to call you Heidi” – sang You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Diana Reid, a friend of Dan and his wife of 59 years, June, met at Elaine’s, a celebrated watering hole in New York City, nearly 40 years ago. She said that “Dan had only one song request – We’ll Meet Again by Vera Lynn,” which is the tune that played as everyone filed out at the end.
In a twist of fate in which Jenkins would have likely found humor, his daughter, award-winning sportswriter Sally Jenkins, was felled by food poisoning and could not deliver her eulogy, her words read by a cousin, Tom O’Connor.
“My Dad was the best and most important sportswriter ever,” Sally Jenkins wrote. “He changed the direction of the river. His words made you wonder if they could have been as effortless to write as they were to read.”
Because of the Players Championship, many in golf couldn’t attend. Jack and Barbara Nicklaus sent flowers and Tom Watson sent a note to the family that captured the magic of Jenkins perfectly: “You, Dan, made me think and laugh at the same time.”
Dan Jenkins was an artist in a profession of craftsmen; a sculptor who took blocks of marble and turned them into David, his exquisite lines breathing beauty, heartbreak and the humor of humanity into something that previously didn’t exist.
When Jenkins entered the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012, it was with his typical wit. “I’m particularly pleased to be taken in as a vertical human,” he said, noting that Bernard Darwin and Herbert Warren Wind were inducted posthumously. Dan said of those in the Hall, he knew 95, wrote stories about 73, had cocktails with 47 and played golf with 24. “So I want somebody else to try and go up against that record,” he said.
It is truly an achievement that never will be surpassed, or even approached, as are his 232 major championships attended, which included 68 consecutive Masters. “I guess I’ll keep doing it until I topple over and they start to work on my tombstone,” he said. And that’s pretty much what he did.
His last Tweet came Feb. 4, when he said of the outburst by Sergio García in Saudi Arabia: “Regarding Sergio: Over the years, I’ve seen several tour pros take a nasty divot out of the bent with one angry chop.” It was a very understanding assessment of one of his favorite targets over the years.
And on that same day Dan tweeted: “I loved last night’s Super Bowl. Old-time hockey, and the right team won. That used to be the final score of every college game I covered.” Dan, who much preferred the college game to the NFL, loved the 13-3 defensive struggle. It was like Hogan winning the U.S. Open with a 287, as he did twice.
“When a man like my father goes, it’s outsized,” Sally Jenkins wrote. “It’s like a hundred men have left the room.”
Dan Jenkins was an artist in a profession of craftsmen; a sculptor who took blocks of marble and turned them into David, his exquisite lines breathing beauty, heartbreak and the humor of humanity into something that previously didn’t exist. Most of us who write are merely carpenters, framing houses, slapping on sideboards and hoping the grain runs in the right direction.
As always, the best words to express how Jenkins would want us to treat his goodbye were penned by His Ownself in his novel Semi-Tough when he gave Billy Clyde Puckett this line: “Laughter is the only thing that cuts trouble down to a size where you can talk to it.”
Jenkins’ was a life from typewriter to Twitter, and no matter how much his profession changed around him, he was always one step ahead. The ending he’d understand is the old-time writer’s code to printers: dash dash 30 dash dash (– –30– –).
That meant you had reached the end of the story.
Goodbye, my friend. We’ll meet again.
– –30– –
Dan Jenkins enjoying a light moment with his daughter Sally at the 91st PGA Championship in 2009. It was the 201st of 232 major championships Dan covered in a career spanning seven decades. Photo: Jeff Roberson, AP
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