Dan Jenkins ’53 and his illustrious career aren’t over — not by a par-5 tee shot. Except now he’s official World Golf Hall of Fame material, even if we’ve known that for awhile.
by RIck Waters '95
Updated: Thursday, July 19, 2012
Dan Jenkins ’53 is only the third writer inducted the World Golf Hall of Fame, and the first not to be inducted posthumously. (Photo by Carolyn Cruz)
The greatest golfer that Dan Jenkins ’53 ever knew called him one day in 1956 to play a practice round at Colonial Country Club. Afterward, sitting around over iced teas, Ben Hogan turned to the 25-year-old scribe and suggested more than just a swing thought.
“You can keep the ball in the fairway off the tee, and you’re a good putter,” Jenkins recalled the great ball striker saying. “I wish I had your putting stroke. But everything in between is a mystery.”
Jenkins didn’t disagree.
“If you work with me three days a week for the next four months, you might be good enough to play in the national amateur,” Hogan added.
The writer known for hair-trigger comebacks was momentarily without words.
“I’m flattered and I appreciate that,” Jenkins finally managed. “And I’m embarrassed to have to turn down an offer of free golf lessons from the greatest player in the world, but I just want to be a sports writer. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.”
Jenkins will never forget what the golf legend did next.
“He looked at me like I’ve seen him look at other people, with that cold stare, and you don’t know whether you’re going to get a bullet in the head or a dagger in the heart, and you wait and it seems like an eternity, and then he smiled and he said, ‘Well, keep working at it.’ ”
For six decades, that’s all Jenkins has done, painting the scene of the sport’s pivotal moments, its colorful characters, picturesque venues and eternal champions. From Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan to Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, he played golf with them one day and wrote about their successes or failures the next.
All of it is a contribution to the sport good enough for the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla., which in May inducted the Horned Frog journalist with the prolific typewriter and the razor-sharp wit into its ranks.
The club has 141 members — more exclusive than Augusta — but two things are worth boasting about, Jenkins thinks.
First, he is only the third writer in the institution, and the first not to be inducted posthumously, a fate that the crusty 82-year-old is delighted to have avoided. Jenkins is quick to point out that the other two are Bernard Darwin, grandson of Charles and a writer for the Times of London from 1907 to 1953; and Herbert Warren Wind, who wrote primarily for the New Yorker from the 1940s through the 1980s.
Second and more important to him, Jenkins is the third inductee from Fort Worth, after his hero Hogan and Nelson. “Even I would admit that’s not bad company,” he grinned.
The thing is, Jenkins is still going. In between alternately pining for TCU to play in the Big 12 and being terrified of how the Frogs will do, he writes for Golf Digest. In June and July, he covered his 211th and 212th major tournaments — the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club near San Francisco and the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Course in Lancashire, England.
Through the years, snark became his signature, employed at the Fort Worth Press, Dallas Times-Herald, Sports Illustrated and other publications. That humor was nothing to him, though, just a reflection of his youthful days frolicking on local municipal courses in Cowtown.
His novels oozed the same wisecracking humor, too, from Dead-Solid Perfect on golf to Semi-Tough on pro football to Baja Oklahoma on life in Texas its ownself. Almost all of his characters have Cowtown roots, just like the author himself.
“You write what you know,” he said. “That’s true of novels and of journalism.”
Covering sports may have even changed because of his whimsical touch, although Jenkins doesn’t see it that way.
“People give me more credit than I deserve,” he said. “All I did was bring some humor to the writing, to covering golf and football and whatever else. I just did it the way that seemed like real life to me.”
“Golf was never a religion to me,” he has told friends and reporters. “The things people come up with, all the hollering and the sayings, it’s just funny. Bad shots are funny, too, especially when somebody else hits them.”
Jenkins had his share of shanks. He started playing golf when he was 8 years old and played nine-hole courses with oiled-sand greens on the city’s south side. By the time he was 11, he attended his first tournament, a major — the U.S. Open at Colonial.
With heroes Nelson and Hogan were becoming pioneers in the sport, it was the perfect time to follow the game and get up close to the pros, he admitted.
“Golf was glamorous. Everybody smoked and dressed like gangsters or movie stars,” he said. “They hit shots with backspin I had never seen before.”
That wonderment was captured in a photo taken by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which Jenkins displays in his home office. In it, Jenkins is trailing Nelson and fellow tour stars Gene Sarazen, Tommy Armour and Lawson Little.
True to his comic ways and to show the yuks aren’t just for a mass audience, Jenkins has included a balloon caption to remind him how it all started: “If that little kid behind us grows up to be a golf writer, this game is in big trouble.”
Lucky for everyone who picked up a club, he did.
While still a teen-ager, he watched Nelson, Hogan and Sam Snead each win a PGA Tour event in Dallas and Fort Worth. “Even though I wasn’t covering golf, by the time I left high school, I felt like I had been,” he said.
Jenkins would stay home to attend TCU and play golf for his beloved Frogs. “Bogey,” they called him, would letter three years with the varsity from 1950 to 1952, all while drinking coffee by the bucket at the local drugstore. He was also working at the Fort Worth Press, becoming the golf writer he imagined.
Was he in the right place at the right time? Jenkins doesn’t argue the notion. As a young writer, still with the Press, he developed a rapport with Hogan better than any journalist. “He could be short with people. I saw it. He didn’t suffer fools. But he was never anything but great with me.”
Those glory days gave him access to players that writers don’t have today.
“Back then, the pros liked us. They let us be in the locker rooms. We were friends and went out to eat and drink together. Today, they don’t need us. They’ve got agents and endorsements and television. All that’s all been lost. It’s a different sport,” he said.
But they didn’t have Twitter.
Jenkins, whose jocularity is a match made in heaven for the platform, now delivers his signature witticisms in 140-character bites. A sampling:
April 7: Tiger kicked his 9-iron yesterday. Best contact he made all day.
April 7: Have I ever kicked a golf club? Let me count the ways.
April 7: The azaleas at Augusta National are past peak, but the sundresses have bloomed. In golf, everything evens out.
Feb 2: Was reminded that Hogan was hit head-on by a bus on this date in 1949. It was the day my career almost ended before it ever got started.
Dec. 14: So I’m getting in the World Golf Hall of Fame. I’m not turning it down, whether it’s deserved or not. Does braid and a saber come with it?
His approach remains the same, and his connection to players and his own playing experience make him an unparalleled titan in the sport, even as a scribe.
“The key to any good sports story is identifying the defining moment,” he said. “In football games or a boxing match, it’s usually pretty obvious. But in golf, sometimes it happens on Thursday. Usually it’s Sunday, but guys who don’t know the game, they can miss it.”
Jenkins never did.
On the Web:
Follow Jenkins on Twitter: @danjenkinsgd