Most headlines about Monday’s World Golf Hall of Fame induction focused on Phil Mickelson. But for Texans and sportswriting connoisseurs, the big news was Dan Jenkins.
The 82-year-old novelist, former Sports Illustrated writer, and current Golf Digest contributor (pictured above with his daughter, the Washington Post‘s Sally Jenkins) is the first scribe who didn’t have to die to get inducted.
“I’m delighted and overwhelmed and pleased and all those things to be taken into this society … especially as a vertical human,” Jenkins said in his acceptance speech, according to Garry Smits of the Florida Times-Union.
He’s also the third son of Fort Worth to be honored, along with Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson. Earlier this week, Jimmy Burch of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram wrote about a prized photograph of Jenkins’ that was taken during practice rounds at the 1941 U.S. Open at Colonial Country Club:
It is prominently displayed in Dan Jenkins’ home in west Fort Worth, but with one addition. A cartoon bubble has been added above the head of Gene Sarazen, who is sharing his thoughts with playing partners Byron Nelson, Tommy Armour and Lawson Little.
“If that little kid back there behind us in the striped golf shirt grows up to be a golf writer, this game is in big trouble,” Sarazen says, forcing viewers to shift their focus to an 11-year-old trailing them in the gallery.
Not only did that 11-year-old grow up to be a golf writer, Dan Jenkins did it well enough to become the fifth member of the World Golf Hall of Fame captured in that photo
The TCU alum (and golf team member) has since covered either 211 or 212 majors, depending who you ask (or whether you count next month’s U.S. Open in San Francisco). His first one was the 1951 U.S. Open for the Fort Worth Press.
“If the late Hunter Thompson gets credit for creating ‘Gonzo Journalism’ — the art of immersing yourself in a story and making fact read with the entertainment of fiction — Jenkins is the guy who brought that attitude to sports, although he will hate to have his name mentioned in the same sentence with Thompson,” wrote Ron Sirak of Golf Digest. “Both blew up the form and invented a new one.”
On another occasion, I came upon Dan standing outside the media center smoking a cigarette. I won’t say when that was so as not to get him in trouble with his good wife, June, who prefers he not smoke. Almost as conversation filler I said, “What are you doing?” Dan answered: “Writing.” And he was. He was thinking about his story. He is always thinking about his story.
“How could anybody get it so right, so fast, so good?” Jenkins’s editor at Golf Digest, Jerry Tarde, said in introducing him. “He is golf’s most influential writer.”
To justify my inclusion in this terrific society, I went back and looked at everybody who’s in it and did some statistics. It turns out that I have known 95 of these people when they were living. I’ve written stories about 73 of them. I’ve had cocktails and drinks with 47 of them, and I played golf with 24 of them. So I want somebody else to try and go up against that record.
Jenkins then went on on to tell a story about playing Babe Zaharias for money, so by all means, read the transcipt.
He finished up the speech by talking about Hogan:
[H]e offered to give me a lesson one day after we played a practice round at Colonial. We were sitting around having an iced tea or a drink or something, and he said, you can keep the ball in the fairway off the tee and you’re a good putter. I wish I had your putting stroke, which is true, but he said, everything in between is a mystery, and I said, yeah. He said, if you will work with me three days a week for the next four months, you might be good enough to play in the national amateur, qualify and play the national amateur.
And I said, Ben, I’m flattered and I appreciate that, 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. 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.
That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 60 years, and I guess I’ll keep doing it until I topple over and they start to work on my tombstone. I’ve already picked out two things. The first one is going to be, “I knew this would happen.” But I’ve got a better one. The better one is you guys hold it down here, I’ve off to the next great adventure. Thank you all.
Below, Geoff Shackelford’s “Inductee Case” video for Jenkins: the Hall’s display of Jenkins’ artifacts and memorabilia, including the infamous 1941 photo and his equally infamous manual typewriter.