Dan Jenkins is my favorite sports writer of all time.
Understandably, that’s not really the greatest compliment you can pay someone considering 99% of his “peers” are nothing more than angry, bitter, jaded assholes incapable of writing anything positive or interesting, period, about an athlete unless it’s going to move copies, but I think that’s what makes Jenkins even more of a remarkable writer…he’s more angry, bitter and jaded than any of them, yet, it’s endearing because Jenkins has the knowledge, the gravitas and the résumé that gives his writing credibility. Sure, he comes off like a curmudgeon longing for the game of a previous era, but whereas someone with an equally authoritative voice such as Johnny Miller comes across as self biased, crass and bitter, Jenkins’ self-admitted subjectivity gives his prose an air of authenticity in that, yea, he’s taking shots at today’s golfers but only because he has memories of Hogan and Nelson and Snead and Palmer and Nicklaus and Watson easily accessible with a simple dip into his encyclopedic memory.
Disgusted by the cookie cutter golf we’ve seen in the past two decades transform into a gross misappropriation of a truly great game, Jenkins rarely pulls punches, not from a critical point of view, mind you, but like a father who’s teaching his son to ride a bike. He may blast Tiger or Phil, Rory or Sergio, but he writes his barbs in a way that makes you think he’s saying that because he wants to see that particular golfer’s true potential be reached. And if you act like an asshat, you deserve to be called out as one.
Jenkins has written some controversial lines that have gotten him in trouble in the past, and his racist tweets regarding YE Yang are inexcusable. He’s often written absolutely disrespectful articles about champions of tournaments that weren’t a big name or had a great story. In today’s culture of backtracking and retracting, Jenkins’ accountability for his writing is a breath of fresh air, even if the stale stench of negativity still taints the air. But, as Jenkins sarcastically quips after being told his opinion is in the minority…”now I won’t sleep at all tonight.”
It’s one of life’s remarkable mathematical abnormalities that three of golf’s greatest figures, in one way or another- Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Jenkins - went to the same high school and caddied at the same club in Fort Worth. It bears mention that Jenkins talks about his career so wistfully, saying that it was easy and he would’ve followed Nelson and Hogan anywhere. He’s THE authority on one of the game’s true greats, Ben Hogan, being one of the few people who was able to have some kind of personal relationship with the noted recluse. As he’d probably tell you, Jenkins has seen just about everything there is in golf, and it’s because he’s seen nearly five decades of the sport that gives his voice such authority…if something isn’t up to snuff, he’s not going to blow sunshine up it’s skirt.
Despite his accolades and reputation, it’s Jenkins’ love of golf that draws the reader in. You can tell he loves the game dearly and that he’s emotionally invested in the major events. You can sense the pain in his voice when he talks about how sponsor dollars and ubiquitous ass-kissing has turned the modern pro into a diva because he was, and is, friends with guys like Nicklaus and Palmer, et al, on a personal level. He leaves the hyperbole to the occupational golf writers and isn’t about to compare someone like Zach Johnson to Lee Trevino just because he’s the flavor of the month.
After the jump…a few selections of Jenkins work. Some great quotes from a great writer…hope you enjoy.
On his writing style:
Are you accusing me of writing well? I guess I’ve written successfully. I’m pretty sure that writing for publication is one of the most arrogant things a human can do. Your name is on it and you’re telling everybody how it is. It requires arrogance, confidence, ego, all that. It also requires self-assurance. Take writing golf. I believe that the longer you’ve been at it, and the more knowledgeable you’ve become, the more you can be definitive and opinionated. Your first obligation to the reader is to be accurate. Then if you can inform and entertain the reader at the same time–without straining a muscle–all the better.
On football and growing up in Texas:
In Texas, if you don’t like football, they drown you.
On Tiger Woods, back in 2005:
Only two things can stop Tiger–injury or a bad marriage.
On criticizing today’s Tour pro:
Am I supposed to care? No, seriously, I’ve never worried much about who can take a joke. Arnold used to laugh, but maybe he didn’t get it in the first place. I’ve enjoyed some friendly give and take with Jack and Crenshaw, guys like Weiskopf, Trevino, Jerry Pate. Some others. Until today’s era of rich, spoiled brats, players sort of respected you more if you dragged them down to your level.
Today you’ve got guys who aren’t even Tiger Woods who are constantly fawned over by fans and sucked up to by tournament committeemen. I lay a lot of blame at the doorstep of the sponsors. You’ve got two kinds of tournament sponsors now: One kind wants his picture taken with Scott Hoch, the other kind wants Mark Calcavecchia to marry his daughter.
On being a curmudgeon:
Guilty. The thing is, I can’t help it that I saw Hogan and Snead and Byron in their prime and I know what great shotmakers they were. How inventive and creative they had to be. But I loved it when David Ogrin called me “a hostile voice from a previous era.” He nailed me. And I’ve gotten my share of ribbing from Tom Kite, telling me, “You know, Dan, they just can’t write like they used to anymore. Grantland Rice could really turn a phrase, but not today’s golf writers.”
I can laugh at all that. It’s very funny. I can also get even, by the way–I’ve got the word processor.
On being controversial:
No, I just take pride in being right. A guy came up to me in a hotel bar, some overserved sponsor. He squinted at me and said, “Aren’t you Dan Jenkins?” I nodded. He said, “I’ve read some of your stuff. Man, you’ve got a problem.” I said, “No, you’ve got the problem, I’ve got the typewriter.” Big moment in journalism.
On the current state of golf:
You know what I’m going to say to that. It’s the notion that the average players today are better than the average players of the ’40s and ’50s. Well, they’re not. But they don’t have to be. The equipment is better. The ball is hot. The courses are so much better maintained now. The greens are immaculate. They seldom get a bad lie in the fairway. They play ball-in-the-air golf. Drive it 300 yards, hit to a target that will hold anything, every putt rolls true. Lanny Wadkins has said, “We make sixfooters now like we used to make twofooters.”
On PGA Commissioner Deane Beaman’s contribution to the Tour:
Hey, you want to see harsh, point me to the all-exempt tour. It’s the worst thing that ever happened. It’s created boredom, silly winners, disgusting greed. It took fear out of the game. The exempt player can shoot at the pin all four days, not worry about missing the cut–he can still play again next week. You get these curious winners you’ve never heard of, and some you never hear of again. It’s tyranny from the bottom. Deane’s legacy.
On golfers as athletes:
Absolutely. Stand close and watch the way they whip the clubhead through the ball, the divot they take, you know they’re athletes. It takes an athlete to hit a 300-yard drive, straight, then change gears for chip shots and putts. And apart from Casey Martin, the pros don’t ride carts.
On Dr. Cary Middlecoff’s 1955 Masters win:
It’s entirely possible that Dr. Cary Middlecoff gave up dentistry because people couldn’t hold their mouths open that long.
On Jack Fleck upsetting Ben Hogan in the 1955 US Open:
When a sportswriter for the Pittsburgh Press named Bob Drum called his wife from the U.S. Open pressroom, the conversation went like this:
“I gotta stay over another day,” Bob said.
“Why?” asked Marian Jane Drum.
“To cover the playoff.”
“There’s no playoff. Ben Hogan won the Open. They said so on TV. What a liar you are! You just want to stay in San Francisco and get drunk another day.”
“I can get drunk in Pittsburgh.”
“So come home.”
“I’m telling you, I’ve gotta cover the playoff tomorrow between Hogan and Jack Fleck.”
“Jack Fleck. He tied Hogan after TV went off.”
“Jack Fleck? That’s the dumbest name you’ve ever made up.”
On the 1960 US Open where Arnold Palmer came back from the abyss to beat Ben Hogan and a hotshot amateur named Jack Nicklaus:
So it had come down to this, to the moment when one immortal would give the U.S. Open to another, from Ben Hogan to Arnold Palmer, with best wishes — grudgingly.
It came down to the 71st hole of a gasping three days, down to a sad portrait of Ben Hogan with a pants leg rolled up, standing in a dark pond, holding a wedge in his hands, an instrument that had betrayed him.
On the 1961 Masters:
Gary Player of South Africa is the Masters champion because Arnold Palmer was in too big a hurry to win it again.
There’s no other way to say it. The 18th hole at Augusta National might as well have been a slab of meat, the way Palmer butchered it.
On Billy Casper, the Tour pro known for his diet of buffalo and elk meat:
Nobody knows how to cook buffalo, bear and elk meat, so they probably think Billy Casper eats it raw. What they do know is that he had Arnold Palmer for dessert.
On the 1970 British Open:
Amid the intoxicating old ruins of the town of St. Andrews, and on the golf course that held the first cleat, history and tradition were flogged and caned all week by a cast of modern hustlers and legends in a musty thing called the British Open. While Tony Jacklin shot the heather off the land, and Lee Trevino verbally shot down a prime minister, Jack Nicklaus played himself into immortality, and the lord of nightlife, Sir Douglas Sanders, played himself into the hearts of all those who savor the three-piece, phone-booth golf swing.
On the 1975 Masters:
Yeah, but Manny, we want Redford for all three leading men. OK, maybe somebody else for Weiskopf, but Redford’s got to play the two blond guys, Nicklaus and Miller. We call it “The Greatest Golf Tournament Ever Played.” So people argue. Who’ll know? One blond guy makes a putt from here to Encino, and the other two guys miss putts on the 18th from so close the cup looks bigger than Coldwater Canyon. Now the blond guy who wins, Nicklaus, who is already the best there ever was, he marries his 1-iron and takes his putter for a mistress. Cut and print. Ciao, baby.
On Jack Nicklaus’ 1986 Masters win:
If you want to get golf on the front pages again, and you don’t have a Francis Ouimet, a Bobby Jones or a Ben Hogan handy, you send an aging Jack Nicklaus out in the last round of the Masters and tell him to kill more foreigners than a general named Eisenhower.
On the US Open venue, the Olympic Club, the course he dubbed “the graveyard of champions”:
Of all the traditions in golf, the one at the Olympic Club in San Francisco is the most annoying: Hold a U.S. Open at Olympic, and the wrong guy will win it every time. Olympic is now three for three. Fleck over Hogan. Casper over Palmer. Simpson over Watson. Evidently God likes to punish the press.
On Tiger’s win at the 2000 PGA Championship:
The golfer who is going to challenge Tiger Woods and keep him from owning all the oceans, mountains and air we breathe, to say nothing of our tacos and fruit groves, is a kid only 10 years old we haven’t heard of yet. But he’s been playing golf since he was 2, he’s been on the back tees since he was 7, he’s already 6-3 and 195, he hits balls 16 hours a day, and he has bleeding lash marks on his back from his daddy punishing him every time he shoots worse than 62 in practice.
On Phil’s 2006 US Open disaster:
Bury my laptop at Wounded Foot. Sorry. Make that Winged Foot, and put it next to Phil Mickelson. The U.S. Open was grim from start to finish, and Mickelson will be saying, “I am such an idiot” for months, if not years to come for giving away this Open with the worst driving exhibition since the Greyhound bus ran into Ben Hogan.
On Arnold Palmer:
This is true, I think. He IS the most immeasurable of all golf champions. But this is not entirely true because of all that he has won, or because of that mysterious fury with which he has managed to rally himself. It is partly because of the nobility he has brought to losing. And more than anything, it is true because of the pure, unmixed joy he has brought to trying.
He has been, after all, the doggedest victim of us all.
On Jack Nickluas:
Jack never played for money in his life. He played against the history books, which is tougher. Immortality is a lot tougher to play for than money.
On Tiger Woods:
I never thought I’d ever see a greater shotmaker than Hogan or a greater winner than Nicklaus, but I have. It’s Tiger. Not that I still wouldn’t want Ben to get the drive in the fairway for me for my life. But Tiger makes all those other slugs out there today look like they don’t even know how to play. We’re talking about a truly remarkable athlete here. Something the game has never seen.
On whom he prefers between Hogan and Tiger:
Hogan won six majors after his accident. If Tiger Woods tops that, the good news is, I’ll be dead and won’t see it.
A final quote:
Laughter is the only thing that cuts trouble down to a size where you can talk to it.