He was, until the end, His Ownself. An original. An icon. Dan Jenkins, bestselling author, columnist, humorist, member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, and world-class drinking buddy for everyone from Don Meredith to Robert Redford, died on Thursday night. He lived 90 years and didn’t waste a one of them.
Author of such gems as Dead Solid Perfect, Semi-Tough, Life Its Ownself, and The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate, among others, Jenkins was a mainstay at golf’s major championships and Texas Christian University Horned Frog football games for more than half a century. He was a friend of Ben Hogan’s, played a lot of rounds with Arnold Palmer, knew presidents and kings on an informal basis and had the uncanny ability to skewer an athlete and leave him laughing afterward.
According to Curtis Strange, “an athlete didn’t make it to the big leagues until Jenkins had written something about them.”
“I was just talking about him,” Paul Azinger said. “Somebody was asking who is the best golf writer and I thought, there’s one guy who set the standard: Jenkins. I was really lucky, I went through my whole career without Jenkins ever skewering me. He was one funny guy, though.”
This publication exists, in some measure, because of Jenkins. Global Golf Post publisher Jim Nugent said, “I was in high school, caddying at a suburban Chicago golf course, when an older caddie gave me a copy of The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate. I never laughed so hard in my life. That was my introduction to golf journalism. I bought a copy for my dad for Father’s Day. And I never saw him laugh so hard in my life. After that I read every book Jenkins wrote. He was a giant and a legend.”
Brad Faxon had similar experiences. “When I was a young teenager and started to play golf in the early ’70s I read Dead Solid Perfect. I grew up on Sports Illustrated and loved Dan Jenkins. He was the first person who made me laugh about golf. (Dead Solid Perfect protagonist) Kenny Lee Puckett was a household name growing up. I loved (Jenkins’) bombardment of tweets during the Masters. What a man. He will be missed.”
Dead Solid Perfect was one of several Jenkins books made into movies (Semi-Tough starred Burt Reynolds). Peter Jacobsen said, “My favorite Jenkins memory? Hanging around with him while shooting the movie Dead Solid Perfect. Dan and Randy Quaid, now that was a fun hang.”
Global Golf Post’s Steve Eubanks remembers Jenkins as a man who always enjoyed the company of younger writers. “He was 10 years older than my father,” Eubanks recalled. “Still, we ate together a lot at majors where I knew I was experiencing something that I could tell my grandkids.
“At the 1999 Ryder Cup at The Country Club, I was sitting at the lunch table with Jenkins and (fellow scribe) Kaye Kessler when someone tapped Jenkins on the shoulder and said, ‘Nothing good is happening here.’ When I looked up I saw President George H.W. Bush, his wife, Barbara, and a couple of strapping young men with short haircuts and Secret Service smiles. They had come to media dining specifically to see Dan. Not one to let a moment like that pass, I jumped up and introduced myself to the Bushes.
“A few minutes later, I heard the rest of the story. It turns out Mrs. Bush arrived at the media center before her husband and the Pinkerton security guard, a 350-pound good ol’ boy everyone called Tiny, refused to let her in. ‘I’m sorry ma’am, you need a credential to get in here,’ Tiny said. Mrs. Bush said, ‘We’re here to see Dan Jenkins,’ to which Tiny said, ‘No, ma’am, not without proper credentials.’ Poor Barbara cocked her head and said, ‘But … but … I’m with the president.’ About that time, (writer) John Feinstein leaned over and said, ‘Tiny, that’s the First Lady.’ The big man still didn’t get it until President Bush bound up the stairs wearing a windbreaker with the presidential seal on it. ‘Young man, we’re not going to have any trouble getting in here, are we?’
“Not quite a year later, Jenkins and I were standing outside the media center on Sunday of the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla. Tiger Woods was trying to become the first man since Ben Hogan to win three majors in a row but he was in a dogfight with Bob May. Dan pulled a drag off a cigarette and said, ‘Bob May might go to church every morning and save puppies in his spare time, but if he screws up this story I’ll hate him for the rest of his life.’ ”
“Seeing him in the media cafeteria at a major championship or at dinner time in the media hotel, he would be surrounded by younger journalists, some half his age, all listening to his stories which were told in a spare, amusing manner. He didn’t hog the conversation; he participated in it and when he spoke everyone else fell silent and listened … ” – John Hopkins
“For two decades, Dan and I worked for the same publication and at the major championships I’d have dinner with him most every night,” GGP correspondent Ron Sirak said. “Hearing stories from a man who’d been to every Masters in my lifetime – I was born in 1950, the same year he went to Augusta National the first time – was awe-inspiring. But the week I cherished most was covering the Colonial Invitational after Dan had moved back to Fort Worth, his hometown.
“Dan, his wife, June and I would go to dinner and talk about writing – not golf writing, but movie writing. He loved scripts like Casablanca, Chinatown and All About Eve. He loved the art of writing, the perfect sentence. Once, at a major, I went outside the media center and Dan was smoking a cigarette, staring at the golf course. I asked what he was doing and he said: ‘Writing.’ It’s part of what Dan taught me. Writing begins before you sit down at the keyboard. It’s about watching and listening and thinking. Dan taught me to write with my eyes and my ears and, especially, my heart. He loved what he did, and we are all better for it.”
GGP’s John Hopkins said: “Seeing him in the media cafeteria at a major championship or at dinner time in the media hotel, he would be surrounded by younger journalists, some half his age, all listening to his stories which were told in a spare, amusing manner. He didn’t hog the conversation; he participated in it and when he spoke everyone else fell silent and listened because they knew his to be the voice in that group. Jenkins, as he was always referred to as if he had been to a British public school, was rightly lauded for his writing. His talking was pretty good too.”
Jenkins the legendary writer also bonded with Jim Nantz, one of the game’s iconic voices: “Sad day for all of us who treasure the game and the way the story is told,” Nantz wrote in an e-mail to GGP. “Many warm memories seeing him in press rooms, at Colonial, and countless other golf celebrations and gatherings. We corresponded Jan. 30 after I ran into his beloved (daughter) Sally at a Super Bowl press conference. She said that he was not going to be physically able to make it to Augusta this year, so I let him know how sorry I was to hear the news and that he was a part of the landscape there. He wrote back that same day. He was proud that he had covered Augusta for 68 years and knew that it was a record that would never be broken. He signed off, ‘Yours in English lit, DJ’ – it’s an e-mail I will treasure forever.”
“As I sit here thinking about the passing of Dan Jenkins, I can’t help thinking there’s nothing I could write about him that he couldn’t have done much better his ownself,” GGP’s Ron Green Jr. said.
“You’re probably familiar with the old line about handsome movie stars, the one about how men want to be like him and women want to be with him. When it came to Jenkins, sports writers wanted to be like him and, even more, they wanted to write like him.
“Most of us probably tried (I plead guilty) but that’s like trying to copy a sunset. In the same way there will only be one Ben Hogan and one Arnold Palmer, Jenkins’ North Stars when it came to golf, Jenkins has his own table in the sportswriting universe.
“Having lunch with him or sitting on a shuttle bus beside him, Jenkins would tell a story or drop a line you wanted steal but it was so uniquely Dan that everyone would know where it came from.
“He did what the best do: Made you think, made you laugh, occasionally made you wince and, most times, he made you want to go back and read what he had written all over again.
“Dan was like no one else.
“The only way he could be.”
Dan Jenkins speaks during the 2005 Golf Writers Association of America awards dinner in Augusta, Georgia. Photo: Andrew Redington, Getty Images
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