Dan Jenkins Interview

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December 2, 1928 -- March 7, 2019
Posted on
March 16, 2019
M. James Ward in
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

When Dan Jenkins passed away earlier this month at age 90 the world of golf and sports writing lost a giant of epic proportions. In his lifetime in covering golf, Jenkins had a ringside seat at 232 majors he attended -- starting with the 1941 US Open in his beloved hometown of Fort Worth, TX, where he passed away. His coverage and prodigious writing skills earned him a special place as one of only three writers -- the others being Bernard Darwin and Herbert Warren Wind -- as members of the World Golf of Fame when he was enshrined in 2012.

Jenkins was an unabashed fan of Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson and his wry writ and savvy style amplified their exploits and prowess on the golf course. He joined the staff of Sport Illustrated in 1962 and was the main voice in bringing to life the golf exploits of the game's premier players and events. Jenkins would eventually earn a second distinguished career when joining Golf Digest and writing a monthly column.

More than just reporting the scores and doing the perfunctory analysis, Jenkins delved deeper and was not averse to letting those know of his opinions and often biting sarcasm. He produced a number of books -- including his most noted novel "Semi Tough." Jenkins covered his first Masters came in 1951 and starting at the 1969 PGA Championship through the 2014 US Open he was onsite writing at 179 consecutive majors. To say he will be missed is beyond a major understatement. 

Jenkins was ever gracious to fellow writers and in the interview that follows he shares his thoughts gained through a lifetime of love in doing what he artfully provided -- writing with an unabashed passion and humor. *

* Excerpt from “Unplayable Lies: The only Golf Book You'll Ever Need” -- Published March 17, 2015 from DoubleDay *

It’s easy enough to blame America for the six-hour round, the infernal plumb-bob, the blimp-size driver, the island green, and “Get in the hole!” — son of “You da man!” – but ask yourself this: What would the game be like without the gimme, the mulligan, improving the lie, and a chile dog at the turn?

There are, of course, purists among us, who eat grated persimmon for breakfast and would take us back to the square-dimple ball, the rut iron, the stymie, no sprinkler systems, and play it down everywhere, even during appendicitis attacks.

Here’s the thin: America has been very good to golf; even though we may have overcooked the game, which is to say overadvanced it, and maybe overcorrected what we’ve overcooked.

If America hadn’t become interested in the game, we might still be swinging at the ball in tweed coats, neckties, and plus-fours, and talking like Lord Crawley, the Earl of Grantham.

For better of worse, there are many other things America has contributed to the game. Just off the top of my Hogan cap, I can think of the $2 Nassau, the gangsome, cartpaths, square grooves, Softspikes, Tour caddies, Tour gurus, courtesy cars, hospitality tents, Babe and the LPGA, college golf, autograph hounds, the $500 green fee, the handicap thief, seven hundred ways to cure the slice, and the Tour wife, which comes in two flavors today: blond and naturally blond.

Of course there will always be things to criticize about our contributions, but we’ll do the criticizing, thank you. In fact, I’ll start. For example, take the sports agent.

Golf’s most underrated aspect — whether person, place or thing?
The athleticism involved in being a good or great pro. Stand next to a pro when he’s hitting an iron off the fairway and watch the speed and hear the impact and look at the divot and you will see what it takes to do that. Plus they walk. Hills and valleys.

Golf’s most overrated aspect — whether person, place or thing?
The exempt tour. It took fear out of the game and allowed players to go low all FOUR rounds.

You have five courses to play for eternity – what would they be?

Pine Valley. Cypress Point. Merion, Augusta National and Pine Valley again.

Somewhat similar question — you’re one of four people in a foursome — name the three other members joining you and why?
Four cripples I can beat. No, serious — Hogan, Nicklaus and Jones.

Of all the people you have personally interviewed who was the best in terms of insights provided? The most difficult? Most puzzling? Most amusing?
Jack Nicklaus — greatest interview ever — every time out. Most amusing — Jimmy Demaret, Lee Trevino, Dave Marr. Puzzling — all those robots who to a question says, “Boy, that’s a tough one.” That covers difficult too.

Golf has four major championships — rank them in order of importance from your perspective?
For heft of title in order – U.S. Open, Masters, British Open, PGA. They are ALL historic — even when a slug wins.

You’ve prided yourself in being an unabashed Hogan fan — what is one contribution to golf most golf fans are not fully aware or appreciative of ?
He had a closet sense of humor. But only around close friends, which I was proud to be one. 

You've covered numerous major championships covering over many years. If you had to pinpoint a max of five that had the most impact on the game what would they be?

Hogan at Merion in ’50 — coming back from the dead. Palmer in ’60 conspiring with TV to create golf’s perfect storm — first at Augusta — then at Cherry Hills. Nicklaus winning his sixth Masters in ’86. And at gunpoint I’m forced to say Tiger winning the Masters in ’97 — a glimpse of things to come.

What’s your biggest pet peeve with golf and what would you do change it.
For recreational golfers — anyone taking more than 3 hours to play 18 holes should be hung by his Footjoys. 

You are both respectful of many of golf’s grand traditions — and at times — can be irreverent when the moment requires it. What’s missing in sports writing today ?
A lot of newspapers to start with. I actually think sportswriting is in pretty good hands, starting with my daughter Sally at the Washington Post. But there are other voices out there who have wit and the work ethic. Deadspin gets my attention, and guys like Drew McGary and Tommy Craggs are so good they are terrifying. I should mention terrific talents like Gene Wojciechowski at ESPN and Dan Wetzel at Yahoo.

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About M. James Ward

A GWAA and MGWA member, the 66-year-old from the USA has covered golf in all facets since 1980, notably the major championships and other high level events. He has played over 2,000 courses globally and has competed in USGA Championships.

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