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Dan Jenkins may not be a household name to many younger golfers today, but he was arguably the best golf writer ever. Famed TV interviewer Larry King called Jenkins “the quintessential Sports Illustrated writer and the best sportswriter in America.”
Jenkins died March 7, 2019. He was 89.
Jenkins grew up in Ft. Worth, Texas, and graduated from Texas Christian University, where he was captain of the TCU golf team. In addition to numerous newspapers and magazines, Jenkins worked as a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, writing more than 500 articles up until 1985. Jenkins also contributed hundreds of stories and articles for Golf Digest.
Yet, he may be best known for his 20 books, three of which were turned into movies: Semi-Tough (starring the late Burt Reynolds), Dead Solid Perfect (Randy Quaid), and Life Its Ownself. But if you want to get the best sense of Dan Jenkins classic, inimitable writing talent, as well as find yourself laughing non-stop for hours, buy a copy of Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate, an anthology of amazing stories, first published in 1970.
In his articles and books, Jenkins made a habit of skewering celebrities, especially professional golfers. After SI, Jenkins wrote monthly articles for Golf Digest for 30 years. Fellow Golf Digest staffer Cliff Schroc, stated “Anyone who got zinged by Dan … deserved it.”
But on one occasion, Jenkins attempt at zinging humor backfired. In December of 2014, Jenkins published an article in Golf Digest titled “My (Fake) interview with Tiger; or how it plays out in my mind.”
The piece featured images of a Tiger Woods lookalike in golfing gear, while during an imaginary interview with Tiger, Jenkins mocks Woods’ aloof and arrogant behavior and reputation.
Although the piece was clearly identified as a parody, the real Tiger Woods demanded an apology from the magazine. Woods felt Jenkins’ writing “fails as a parody, and is really more like a grudge-fueled piece of character assassination.”
I read it twice, and Tiger reacted as if the fire hydrant didn’t exist and he was above Dan Jenkins’ zings. Nobody was.
Not only was Dan Jenkins the best golf writer, he was the most prolific, covering 230 professional golf men’s majors, including the Masters in Augusta for 68 years!
Schrock, who used to edit and arrange Jenkins’ articles, made the important observation that Jenkins “spanned golf from rudimentary tour days of vagabond pros trying to scratch out a living while also holding a club pro job to the megabucks players today who really have little understanding of how the old days were.
Dan always made the point that golf heritage was foreign to today’s tour players. Their pampered lifestyle today dulls the senses to realizing the rough-and-tumble way it used to be to earn a living as a tournament player.”
That having been said, Jenkins, his ownself, covered Hogan and Nelson, Palmer and Nicklaus, in the day when there were no posh media perks or amenities for golf writers and reporters.
While I personally admired Dan Jenkins greatly, I did not agree with one of his writing beliefs, which was his practice of favoring the iconic name or legend over the common, unheralded golfer who had a brief shining moment as a tournament champion.
In Schrock’s words, “Jenkins loved it when the marquee player won, since it would generate greater readership.”
I wanted unknown Mike Donald to beat Hale Irwin in the 1990 U.S. Open, but Irwin’s unlikely 60-foot putt sealed it, followed by a victory trot around the green.
“He (Jenkins) did not get as enthused when the lesser-known player won, who would not be of any great consequence in the history books and ruined a great storyline,” Schrock said.
Dan Jenkins was introduced into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012, as only the third golf writer to be awarded that honor.
Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact Blanchard at firstname.lastname@example.org.