The old scrivener stood above the putting green as if ready to dive into a pool of sensory memory … Whoops. Sorry. We’re not doing that kind of golf writing. Dan Jenkins was at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth the other day. Here’s some stuff he might have sensed. Distant train brakes, screeching. Mantis-like transmission towers, dotting the horizon. A complete lack of non-golf vegetation, thanks to the Texas winter. As Jenkins once wrote, “The scrub oaks looked like twisted wrought iron, and everybody’s front yard had turned the color of a corn tortilla.”
Jenkins is an 84-year-old golf writer of antiromantic disposition. He has a helmet of white hair and a squint that suggests cheerful orneriness. He had begun the afternoon in the Colonial dining room, where the club had put his World Golf Hall of Fame blazer in a glass case.
“Which I wasn’t going to wear anyway,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins walked from the lunchroom to the terrace. He noted Colonial’s exercise room. “Which I’m against,” he said. Jenkins noted the new tennis center. “Tennis doesn’t deserve this,” he said. Then he came to the edge of the terrace, where he could look down onto the putting green.
Jenkins told of an encounter that happened at about this spot in 1949. Before he got famous writing for Sports Illustrated and Golf Digest, before he became the writer Palmer and Nicklaus confided in, Jenkins was a 20-year-old cub reporter at the Fort Worth Press. Down on the putting green, he spotted Ben Hogan — just the greatest golfer in the world. A golfer nine months removed from the car accident that nearly took his life. A golfer with a don’t-screw-with-me stare that could separate Fort Worth’s mounted cops from their horses.
Jenkins steeled his nerves, walked over, and introduced himself. A divine yellow light enveloped Jenkins and Hogan, as if they’d gotten lost in Jack Nicklaus’s hair … whoops. Sorry. We’re not doing that kind of golf writing.
Dan Jenkins didn’t allow that kind of writing. The miracle of Jenkins is that he became the best golf writer ever by disabusing the sport of its literary pretensions. It’s as if Hunter Thompson had become the dean of racing writers. In a new memoir, His Ownself, Jenkins sketches out what we might call his issue positions. For being funny. For picking on golfers who deserve it. Against magical realism. Against turning the Eisenhower Cabin into the Shrine at Compostela. Against Tiger Woods, famously. If Sports Illustrated of the ’60s and ’70s thickened the sportswriter’s thesaurus, Jenkins was the guy insisting his words be precise and potent and unflowery.
Such as: “Greg Norman always has looked like the guy you send out to kill James Bond, not Jack Nicklaus.”
Such as: “What fun is it to be Johnny Miller if the highlight of your social life is watching your kids turn over glasses of milk in a Marriott?”
Such as: “A few miles southeast of the Alamo, in a sunken oven of pecan trees and thick, baked Bermuda grass … a middle-aged man [Julius Boros] struck a marvelous blow for tired, portly, beer-drinking, slow-moving fathers of seven.”
Such as: “All in all, this Masters was a bad week for atheists.”
If you loved golf, but didn’t worship it, that’s how you wanted to write. “To use the language of my sons,” said Mike Lupica of New York’s Daily News, “he was so good, it was stupid.” Former Chicago Tribune columnist David Israel said, “For the second half of the 20th century, he was our Mark Twain or Ring Lardner.” The writer Dave Kindred used to take the new issue of SI, prop it up next to his typewriter, and copy out a Jenkins story. It was a bit like trying on a green jacket.
Even the humor-challenged golf pros got Jenkins. It might have taken them years, but they came to understand that being cuffed by Jenkins was better than being buttered up by a lesser writer. “Dan always had a different slant on things than most everybody else, and 99 percent of the time he was right,” said Jack Nicklaus. “I can’t even think of the 1 percent he was not right.”
In Fort Worth, Jenkins’s description of his meeting with Hogan was typically antiromantic. Jenkins didn’t spot Hogan walking out of a sand trap. He didn’t catch Hogan’s voice in the wind. Jenkins just introduced himself.
Hogan said, “I know your byline.”
Which was something just south of a compliment.
But Hogan grew to like Jenkins. Besides writing for the Press, Jenkins was the best golfer on TCU’s varsity team. “He said, ‘Gee, a golf writer who plays!’” Jenkins told me at Colonial. Jenkins once won $6 off Hogan in a $2 Nassau. He felt sheepish about beating the best golfer on the planet. “Never apologize for winning,” Hogan said.
One afternoon, Hogan made Jenkins an offer. Hogan would become his golf coach. If Jenkins worked with him for three months, Hogan said, he might be good enough to play the National Amateur. They would walk the fairways as master and apprentice, surrogate father and surrogate son, their ivy caps tilted at the same 15-degree angle …
Whoops. Sorry. We’re not doing that kind of golf writing. Jenkins told Hogan no. He said, “Ben, that’s … that’s really … flattering … but all I want to be is a good sportswriter.”
Hogan screwed up his face. He said, “Well … keep working at it.”
Here’s what it was like to read a Jenkins golf story in real time. No false nostalgia here, unless you’re nostalgic for cigarettes. The year was 1969. The Masters had just ended. Jenkins hovered over his typewriter in Augusta with a Winston sticking out of his mouth. Walter Bingham, his editor, was waiting in the Sports Illustrated office in New York. He would read Jenkins’s words page by page as they came over the wire. It was a sports story in installments.
As the golf writer at SI, Jenkins had the semi-luxurious assignment of writing one article per tournament. But he remained a deadline writer. If a tournament ended at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Jenkins typed right alongside Red Smith and Jim Murray and other leading brands. He had about three hours to hand his first pages to the Western Union guy. Jenkins pre-wrote chunks of the stories. When people asked what phrase he used most often in his writing, Jenkins said it was “Earlier in the week … ”
Red Smith once said: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and open a vein.” Jenkins said, “I was never a bleeding writer.” Myra Gelband, a former SI reporter and editor, would sometimes watch him as he typed. She noticed Jenkins almost never pulled a page from his typewriter and crumpled it up. He rarely stopped when a word betrayed him. He simply typed from the top of the page to the bottom, then pulled out another sheet of paper and began a new page. Gelband said Jenkins was so smooth that it looked as if he were copying something he’d already written.
The ’69 Masters offered prime material. Billy Casper, an observant Mormon and chronic allergy sufferer, had blown the tournament on the first 10 holes of the final round.
Bingham got the first pages:
For three days, the Masters enjoyed a great inner peace. Billy Casper and his good friend, the Lord, strolled hand in hand through the valleys and pines of Augusta, stamping out petroleum-based pesticides, gas heating, foam-rubber pillows, and assorted sausages that offend his allergies.
“Dan’s angles were sometimes very angular,” said Tom Watson. Here, in his Masters story, the editor might have noticed that Jenkins was ignoring the actual tournament winner, George Archer — the guy who would be on the cover of that week’s Sports Illustrated. Jenkins found Archer boring. Three years later, he would write, “It is generally felt that Archer couldn’t win a charisma race if he kept Jill St. John in his golf bag.”
That caused Archer’s wife, Donna, to send Jenkins an angry letter saying her husband had the charisma of Joe Namath and Gary Cooper. “I almost wrote her back,” Jenkins told me, “and said, ‘I agree with you, since Joe Namath has a bum knee and Gary Cooper is dead.’”
More pages, Mr. Bingham:
Billy would go out Sunday, one felt, and wander over that beautiful course, smiling and shrugging, hit a good chip when he needed it, sink a putt when it was necessary and hum a few of his favorite hymns by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In a matter of a few hours the Masters would be in heaven.
Jenkins loved being on deadline. Those three hours when he would sit at his typewriter, performing. When I visited him in Fort Worth, I asked why he didn’t write more features. Why not spend a few weeks getting inside Lee Trevino’s head?
“I don’t know how to say this,” Jenkins told me, “but I didn’t want to spend that much time with anybody. I’m not Gary Smith. Gary Smith liked to dig deeper. Fuck that. I liked to take my first impression and roll.”
At the Sports Illustrated office, the pages had piled up. Now Bingham could see the punch line:
There was only one thing wrong with all of this, of course. By the time Casper got around to playing some golf, the Lord was something like six down and five to go …
Bingham had an editor’s moment. He wondered, Can we print this? The piece was kind of … blasphemous. A lot of God-fearing people read Sports Illustrated.
Then Bingham thought, Yes, we can print this. He took Jenkins’s pages, walked down the hall, and deposited them in a typing basket.
Here’s what it was like to sit in a bar with Dan Jenkins. Careful, there’s potential to over-legend here, too. The odd thing about Jenkins is that for all the hours he had a drink in his hand — “I spent most of my free time in convivial bars,” he writes in His Ownself — he never, according to his companions at the time, seemed to be drunk.
The year was 1971. The bar was the Manhattan institution P.J. Clarke’s. The sportswriter Bud Shrake, who died in 2009, once told me Jenkins nearly always had three drinks before him. A scotch and water. A backup scotch and water. And a cup of coffee.
Clarke’s was filled with writers. “I don’t want to talk about the Algonquin Round Table,” said Nick Pileggi, who wrote Goodfellas and who often drank there. “Nothing literary. I mean, nobody would get into Wallace Stevens or Marianne Moore or W.H. Auden. There were no discussions of serious novels by important people. Nothing was taken seriously. You were not allowed to make a big thing of what you were doing.”
Jenkins epitomized the aesthetic. “Effortless, the son of a bitch,” said Pileggi. “Effortless.” Jenkins was effortless at writing and effortless at being. Jenkins would walk into a bar — “headquarters,” he’d call it — and lay down some serious money and tell the bartender, “Don’t neglect me.” They never did. At Clarke’s, you had to “feed” Frankie Ribando. Frankie was the guy running the coveted back dining room. Jenkins fed Frankie. There’s a story that Clarke’s caught on fire one night and Jenkins had to tell Frankie he couldn’t charge the fire department to come in and put it out. The story is too good to check, as they say.
“He would disappear once in a while,” said David Israel. “You knew nobody had to take a leak that often. He was off writing down all his overheards. That’s what he would call them. Just writing down great lines overheard in bars. He didn’t want to write them down in front of somebody.” Jenkins knew if he didn’t write down those lines — that material — they would float into the ether and he’d never remember them again.
On this night at Clarke’s in 1971, Jenkins was going to sell a novel. Semi-Tough would pull Jenkins from the rank of beloved sportswriters and into the rank of beloved writers, period.
How long did it take you to write it? I asked him in Fort Worth.
“Not that long,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins had no outline. He just knew there would be a football player named Billy Clyde Puckett and another football player named Shake Tiller, and they’d be playing for the Giants in the Super Bowl. Billy Clyde and Shake were roughly based on Jenkins and Shrake, who were roughly based on Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer: two guys keeping up an endless naive-profound conversation about love and money and racial relations and the meaning of life.
Shake said, “You realize how long you and me have been at it?”
“Fifteen years, I guess, starting with the Pee Wees,” I said.
“Hasn’t it ever privately bothered you that we’re gettin’ close to thirty and we aren’t anything but football players?” he said.
And I said it hadn’t.
“Well, you just asked me about what you call your life,” he said. “That means you must have thought about it.”
This locker-room philosophizing wasn’t exactly made up. It was an overheard, too. Don Meredith and Sonny Jurgensen told Jenkins stories that were too interesting for Sports Illustrated. By placing their words in the mouths of Billy Clyde and Shake, Jenkins could show readers what the life of a pro football player was really like. Semi-Tough was a new kind of sports book. “Dick Schaap invented a form with Instant Replay,” said Israel. “Dan understood that form could be transformed into literature if it were fiction.”
Were you worried people wouldn’t get Semi-Tough? I asked Jenkins. That they’d think you believed the racially insensitive stuff the characters said?
“I didn’t care … ” Jenkins said. “I was trying to write a novel about the only thing I knew. That’s the truth. I wrote a novel with people talking the way I know they talk.” Or as Jenkins once put it to the Washington Post, “I don’t know why what’s in here is of less importance than John Updike writing about a Toyota dealer.”
That night in 1971, Harper’s editor Willie Morris was at Clarke’s. He’d brought along Herman Gollob, a book editor. Gollob is from Texas. When Jenkins told him about Semi-Tough, Gollob almost bought the book based on the title alone. When he and Jenkins met later, Gollob told him he had several pages of editing notes. “Dan said, ‘Hell, I’ve got more notes than that,’” Gollob recalled. About the only time Jenkins wasn’t effortless was when he was told he needed editing.
Semi-Tough was published in 1972. David Halberstam wrote a rave review in the New York Times. Alex Haley, the author of Roots, wrote to Jenkins from a freighter saying he got the jokes. The book was a best seller. Burt Reynolds starred in the movie. Jenkins bought a penthouse on Park Avenue and, later, a place on the beach in Kauai.
Jenkins didn’t change. You could always find him sitting in Clarke’s, not drunk. The truth, he said, is that he often ate a big meal at home before going out. Jenkins’s friends noticed the way he drank. He would let the ice in his scotch and water and his backup scotch and water melt. He’d take a sip. The ice would melt further. He’d sip his coffee. He would order more rounds. “He was a little Dean Martin that way,” said Pileggi. “He would pretend he was higher than he was.”
Jenkins didn’t live to drink. He drank so he could listen. He listened so he could write. “I was never drunk,” he said. “I always said, I drank to make other people interesting.”
Jenkins was born in Fort Worth, an antiromantic place, in 1929. Those who know Dallas–Fort Worth only by the airport need to understand the key difference between the two cities. Someone born in Fort Worth knows he’s light-years from the center of the universe, whereas someone born in Dallas is likely to remain misinformed.
I’m from Fort Worth, too. I went to Paschal High School about 50 years after Jenkins did. I’ll confine my appearance here to say that while I admired Jenkins for his writing, I admired him even more for his skill in leaving Fort Worth. If Jenkins’s ticket to New York had been through chemistry, I would probably be a chemist.
When Jenkins and I met in Fort Worth, we drove past block after block of new condos and new lofts — the suspicious growths of a city that suddenly finds itself on those “Best Places to Live” lists. We stopped downtown in front of a yellow-brick police substation. Sixty years ago, the building was the headquarters of the Fort Worth Press, the no. 2 paper in a no. 2 city.
The Press office, the writer Gary Cartwright once noted, was “one of those dilapidated brick-box institutions that Scripps-Howard used to stake between the railroad yard and the farmers’ market.” Jenkins got a job there straight out of Paschal, where he’d written a satire of Fort Worth’s no. 1 paper, the Star-Telegram. It tickled the fancy of a Press editor, Blackie Sherrod.
As an editor, Sherrod was a taskmaster and a dadaist. When two backs named Poe and White ran wild in a high school football game, Sherrod wrote the Press’s headline: “Poe, White Trash Highland Park.” When a local pitcher named Bob Austin threw a no-hitter, Sherrod’s headline was, “Why Don’t We Name the State Capital After Him?”
On his first day at the Press, Jenkins writes in His Ownself, he handed a story to Sherrod.
“They didn’t teach you the difference between AMs and PMs in Paschal?” Sherrod asked. The Press was a PM — an afternoon paper.
“When you write for AMs,” Sherrod said, “you concern yourself with who, what, when, where. For PMs, you concern yourself with how, why, and what’s next.” Afternoon papers were for people who knew who won the big game but craved something more — an angle. As Sherrod would say, “See how many paragraphs you can go before you put the score in.”
Sherrod had a term for a piece of bad sportswriting. He called it a subtle russet, so named for one reporter’s description of the hue of the fall leaves before an Arkansas-Baylor football game. Subtle russets went up on a corkboard. If you found a pretentious metaphor in a clump of St. Augustine grass, if you looked into the TCU quarterback’s eyes and found poetic confirmation of whatever your lead said — that was a subtle russet.
“I love Fort Worth,” Jenkins said. “I always have. I think it was because it was funny.” The city begat the prose. Jenkins indulged Fort Worth’s affinity for compound words. Money-whipped. Overgolfed. Man-tailored. Hurt-somebody — an adjective: “hurt-somebody party-queens.” Outlung — which means to have bigger breasts than someone. From Semi-Tough: “Barbara and I could outlung that girl, anytime.”
Jenkins cured his writing of exclamation points and parentheses. He collected overheards in coaches’ offices just as he would at P.J. Clarke’s. TCU coach Abe Martin on his star back: “Aw, he’s just a little old rubber-legged outfit nobody can catch.” Texas’s Darrell Royal on recruiting: “Don’t bring me any of those big old linemen whose legs touch all the way to their knees.”
My favorite overheard might be the punch line of this passage from Fort Worth golfer Kenny Lee Puckett in Jenkins’s novel Dead Solid Perfect:
When I came off the golf course that first afternoon a bunch of those TV phonies captured me and I had to go on camera and talk to a guy in a safari suit who looked like he’d just set a new Southern regional hair-spray record. Captain Big Voice, I called him. He was a dandy little jewel. I don’t know how I missed marrying him. I married everybody else who stood still long enough. Like one of my intellectual buddies back in Texas used to say, “Kenny, anything you can’t fuck up, you’ll shit on.”
Jenkins’s controversial tweet about Y.E. Yang four years ago? That was a Fort Worth overheard. Or Jenkins doing his version of one. He didn’t care about the ensuing controversy. In fact, he stuck a rant about political correctness into his His Ownself. His editor warned him the rant might offend people.
“Fuck people,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins might have been merely a local legend but for two things. One, he saw the world outside the Fort Worth city limits. He read the very first issue of Sports Illustrated when it came out in August 1954. “That was the Yankees,” he decided. Jenkins filed items as an SI stringer and continued when he moved from the Press to the Dallas Times Herald. When SI asked him for anecdotes about putting — to be stuck into a story written by the magazine’s golf writer, Al Wright — Jenkins surprised the editors by writing the 3,000-word piece himself. The magazine summoned him to New York and gave him a staff job.
The other thing that got Jenkins out of Fort Worth was nearly the opposite of seeing the wide world. By a quirk of history, Fort Worth in the ’30s and ’40s was the sports capital of America. In 1935, 11-0 TCU played 10-0 SMU in a game so important it got Grantland Rice onto a train. In 1941, Colonial Country Club hosted the U.S. Open.
And then there was Ben Hogan, Fort Worthian. After meeting Hogan on the putting green, Jenkins had something like an exclusive with the best golfer on the planet. When he and Hogan ate lunch at Colonial, Jenkins watched as Hogan cleaned each piece of silverware with his napkin. You never know, Hogan would say. Hogan would deconstruct his club sandwich to make sure the bacon was crispy-chewy and the lettuce was fresh and the tomatoes didn’t have hard centers. Any ingredient found wanting was returned to the kitchen.
At golf tournaments, Jenkins, still in his twenties, stood off to the side as the big-name reporters crowded around Hogan in the dressing room. Jenkins never understood it: Why would a reporter want the same quotes every other reporter was getting? Plus, the reporters’ questions were golf-dumb. At the ’59 U.S. Open, Milton Gross of the New York Post asked, “Ben, at what point today did you think you’d shoot a 69?”
“Milt,” Hogan said, “that’s the stupidest damn question anybody has ever asked me.”
After the other writers slunk away, Jenkins moved in. “I was the guy to whom he could say, ‘Well, you saw my lie on 5.’ And I had.” That kind of proprietary information made Jenkins a player. He was from a distant planet, but the golf universe granted him a spot right at its center.
“All that stuff, OK?” said Lupica. “And before long, he was Dan. He was Dan. Everybody else stayed away from the practice green at Augusta. Dan would wander down, and there he would be talking to Nicklaus.”
Antiromantic Dan Jenkins story here. No whispering pines. No significant azaleas. “The first thing Dan really liked about me was my first U.S. Open at Hazeltine,” said Ben Crenshaw. “That was 1970. I was 18. I played well enough the first two days to go into the pressroom. The USGA public relations guy said, ‘Would you like to go over your scorecard?’ I said, ‘Sure. Four. Three. Five. Four … ’
“Dan was sitting in the back just laughing, ‘God, this guy’s so green.’”
Another antiromantic Jenkins story. “I’m playing with Rex Caldwell in the ’79 PGA,” said Jerry Pate, the former U.S. Open winner. “Rex Caldwell had on tight white polyester Sansabelts with his balls hanging out, looking like a country-and-western rodeo rider.” Pate couldn’t wait to read Jenkins in the next SI:
Rex Caldwell … is such a hot dog there isn’t enough mustard in America to cover him.
Another antiromantic Jenkins story. “When I won the World Series in Akron in 1982,” said Nick Price, “Dan wrote a pretty bad article about the World Series and me winning. It left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I didn’t really know the guy.” What Jenkins wrote was …
Every now and then … a player will come along with a name out of an old Cary Grant movie — Nick Price, for example — and with no credentials whatsoever will go out there in a big professional tournament and beat up on a group of stars whose reputations should make him hug the trunk of the nearest tree and pray for darkness.
What Price didn’t appreciate then — he does now, and counts Jenkins as a friend — was that Jenkins didn’t do subtle russets. “He could have put a footnote,” Price said with a laugh.
Golf writing before Jenkins was a dull art. In 1914, Grantland Rice’s editor at the New York Evening Mail told him the U.S. Open was too boring to cover. When Rice and his ilk got golf onto the sports pages, they treated it as a singular religion. The Atlanta Journal’s O.B. Keeler — Bobby Jones’s favorite writer — was said to bristle when a reader deigned to ask him a football trivia question. “I have no earthly idea,” Keeler replied. “Now you answer a question for me: What was the date of the landing of the ark on Mount Ararat?” The New Yorker’s Herbert Warren Wind wrote his copy on foolscap, like a monk recording the deeds of the saints.
Jenkins didn’t think a golf course was a place to make an offering. He thought it was a place to make merry — and to occasionally start trouble. He and other writers played a game called Blight Draft. “In the initial iteration, you drafted people who were a blight on humanity,” said David Israel. Historical figures like Hitler, Idi Amin, Nixon. One time, Jenkins was playing Blight Draft with Charlie Conerly, the old Giants quarterback. Conerly said, “Y.A. Tittle” — the guy who took his job with the Giants.
Another Jenkins game was Low Groom. The goal of Low Groom was to nominate a golfer who was the biggest sartorial disgrace to his country club. One day, Ed Sneed, the golfer turned announcer, noticed a member leaning back in his chair. The bottom two buttons of the guy’s shirt had given way, revealing a stomach of heavy rough. Jenkins told Sneed they wouldn’t even need to take a vote on Low Groom that week.
To treat golf without reverence doesn’t mean treating it without seriousness. Jenkins was, and is, serious. “That’s the thing about Dan,” said Tom Watson. “Usually, his punches were directed from truth.”
Truth is a subtle thing in sportswriting. A columnist like the Los Angeles Times’s Jim Murray could write funny about golf. But Murray’s first priority was the joke — he started with the laugh and worked backward toward the golfer. Jenkins started with the golfer and crafted the joke to match. “Even if it was a joke, I believed it,” Jenkins said. “I loved that Dorothy Parker line: ‘Wit has truth in it.’ I sort of knew that without her telling me.”
“Dan had his favorites, no doubt,” said Johnny Miller, the golfer turned NBC commentator. Arnie. Jack. Gentle Ben.
But the old George Plimpton line — that Jenkins reported through “osmosis,” never leaving the press tent — wasn’t quite true. A better way of saying it is that Jenkins earned a spot near golfers that made typical reporting methods obsolete. At the ’77 British Open at Turnberry, Watson made a dinner date with Jenkins for Saturday night — the night after the final round. On Saturday afternoon, Watson went out and beat Nicklaus in the fabled “Duel in the Sun.” Jenkins figured he’d cancel. Watson kept the appointment. They celebrated by eating profiteroles. Then everyone went to a bar and started dancing.
“An almost omniscient view of the world,” said Tom Kite, who won the ’92 U.S. Open. Jenkins has attended 220 majors. Imagine a baseball writer who had covered every World Series since the Yankees won it in 1951. Actually, scratch that. Imagine a writer who took Joe DiMaggio to Toots Shor’s in 1951 and fed him profiteroles after Game 6. It’s no surprise Jenkins became the fiercest guardian of the game’s history. He was the guy who noted that Hale Irwin won one U.S. Open with glasses, one with contact lenses, and one with braces. “I asked Dan once why he keeps beating that Hogan drum,” said Golf World’s Ron Sirak. “He said, ‘Because if I don’t, they’re going to forget about him.’”
When Jenkins sat down at his typewriter, he had twice as many clubs in his bag as everyone else. At the ’86 Masters, after Nicklaus birdied 17, after Verne Lundquist yelled, “Yes, sir!”, Walter Bingham walked into the Augusta pressroom. He saw Jenkins, then with Golf Digest, and Rick Reilly, who’d taken the old Jenkins seat at SI.
“Wow,” Reilly said. “Have you ever seen a story like this? So big you can’t write it?”
“No,” Jenkins said.
Here’s what it was like to watch Dan Jenkins get sweet, delicious revenge. You might remember this. It had been bubbling. When Tiger Woods joined the PGA Tour, in 1996, it wasn’t enough to say he could be the greatest golfer ever. “Tiger will do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity … ” Earl Woods told Sports Illustrated. “He is the Chosen One. He’ll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations.”
Jenkins wasn’t walking into that sand trap. But Woods did pique his interest. Woods had scored a phone call with Ben Hogan before he died in 1997 and soaked up wisdom from the old master. Jenkins saw a potential golf-history nut. In the early 2000s, Golf Digest reached out to Woods’s agent to set up an off-the-record dinner. Like the ones he’d had with Palmer and Hogan.
The answer came back from the Woods camp: “We have nothing to gain.”
Jenkins spent the next decade in what the Brits would call the shadow government. He gave Woods credit for his wins. He once allowed that Woods was a better shotmaker than even Hogan. But he poked at the excesses of Tigermania. In Golf Digest, Jenkins wrote up an imaginary press conference in which Mark O’Meara, who’d barnacled himself to Woods, began his answers with, “Tiger and me were discussing it earlier … ”
In 2001, Jenkins told the magazine, “Only two things can stop Tiger — injury or a bad marriage.” To quote a Fort Worth overheard, he was both right.
In 2010, Woods compared his injury comeback to Hogan’s. “Hogan nearly died,” Jenkins remarked. “All Tiger did was damn near get syphilis.” It wasn’t that Jenkins thought Woods had become evil. That would turn Earl Woods’s hook into a slice. No, Jenkins’s revelation was simpler. “He is a hell of a talent,” Jenkins told me. “He just happens to be an asshole.” To hear Jenkins tell it, the subtle russet peddlers who had turned golf into a religion and given Augusta National cathedral status had also erroneously granted Tiger a soul.
In a column, Jenkins withdrew the dinner invitation. “Now it’s too late,” he wrote. “I’m busy.”
This year, Jenkins will attend the 221st, 222nd, 223rd, and 224th major tournaments of his career. He no longer smokes. His scotch and water and backup scotch and water have been replaced by a single vodka martini. Jenkins no longer writes deadline stories at majors. He writes tweets. Golf Digest’s Mike O’Malley does the typing. If you love golf, but don’t worship it, this is how you want to write.
Do you miss scotch and water? I asked Jenkins in Fort Worth.
“No,” Jenkins said.
Do you miss Winstons?
“Yes,” he said. “They were the best friends I had for 50 years. I never met one I didn’t like.
“And to answer a question you haven’t asked,” he said, “how long am I going to keep doing this? Till they carry me out. What would I do? I don’t paint.”