Dan Jenkins on pros, presidents, and when a funny line becomes a cheap shot
The Jenkins File
Born: Dec. 2, 1929; Fort Worth, Tex.
Residences: Fort Worth and New York City.
Family: Wife, June; sons, Danny and Marty; daughter, Sally.
College: Texas Christian University.
Novels: The Money-Whipped, Steer-Job, Three-Jack, Give-Up Artist (due out in August); Rude Behavior; I'll Tell You One Thing; You Gotta Play Hurt; Fast Copy; Life Its Ownself; Baja Oklahoma; Limo (with Bud Shrake); Dead Solid Perfect; Semi-Tough.
Nonfiction: Fairways and Greens; Bubba Talks; You Call It Sports But I Say It's a Jungle Out There; Football (with Walter Iooss Jr.); Saturday's America; The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate; The Best 18 Golf Holes in America.
It's hard to imagine a dignified fellow like President George Bush (the elder) devouring a Dan Jenkins novel the way the rest of us do, laughing himself to fatigue, taking vicarious pleasure in the outrageous antics of the lush characters and unashamedly stealing one-liners. But Bush, an unrepentant Jenkins fan, friend and golf buddy, proves how thoroughly Jenkins has penetrated our culture. For more than 40 years, Jenkins has provided uproarious depictions of athletes, captains of industry, rock stars, pretentious chefs, social climbers and media denizens.
Although Jenkins' greatest commercial successes were achieved through his bestselling novels, starting with Semi-Tough, his reputation was established through his highly stylized voice on golf. Jenkins started out as a sportswriter at The Fort Worth Press in 1948, when he was just out of high school. After covering many of Ben Hogan's greatest triumphs, Jenkins was discovered by Sports Illustrated, and later wrote two classic golf books--The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate and Dead Solid Perfect. Prolific as ever at 71 and preparing for his 50th U.S. Open, Jenkins has another golf novel due out in August: The Money-Whipped, Steer-Job, Three-Jack, Give-Up Artist.
Jenkins came to Golf Digest in 1985 and has spent the better part of the past 16 years parodying selfish tour players, phony swing gurus, insipid sport psychologists and silly tournament sponsors. To Jenkins, golf is only a game, and woe to those who put themselves above it. Senior Writer Guy Yocom visited with Jenkins in his Park Avenue apartment in New York City and found him in his usual mood--easy, matter-of-fact, fun to be with, his voice lubricated by Texas colloquialisms. As you will see, Jenkins talks the way he writes.
Golf Digest: You've elevated making fun of PGA Tour players to an art form. How do they respond to it?
Dan Jenkins: 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.
A lot of players believe you're too caught up in the romanticism of an era that has long since passed. How do you plead?
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.
Does the average PGA Tour event interest you?
Are you kidding? If it's not a major or the Ryder Cup, wake me when it's time to eat. The Kemper Open might do it for me if Tiger is going for his eighth in a row. Otherwise it's insignificant. Jim Furyk coming down the stretch against Mark O'Meara at Greensboro? That's only important to their immediate families. You might as well ask me to watch the discus and shot put.
What can players do to make the tour more exciting?
Unfortunately they don't have to do anything. The money is there, and they've got the saps on TV--everybody but Johnny Miller--telling America that every shot they hit is wonderful and every course they play is magnificent.
A smart young player out there would know to make friends with the print press. Print guys want them to become heroes, want to understand them better. Players should open up more with print, find out who to trust, establish relationships with the good writers at all the tour stops. There are no Dave Marrs anymore.
By the way, that's the worst thing about the long-suffering LPGA. The players won't say anything. They have some serious talent out there--Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, Kelly Robbins, others--but their idea of a good quote is, "I thought it was 5-iron, but it was a 6."
Are the pros as accessible to the media and public as they used to be?
Not even close. Hell, they're not even accessible to each other. The old guys hung out, in the locker rooms, bars, restaurants. Players and writers drank together, had dinner together. Back then, smoking wasn't a felony and cocktails came easier. Attitudes have changed. If you see a player out in public having dinner, chances are he's with his boring money manager or some boring rich guy he hopes to design a golf course for.
John Daly seems to be a throwback. How do you view him?
I'm rooting for him to make it back, because he was great for golf. Not necessarily an original--drinking, gambling, hitting a long ball. But colorful. A ticket-seller. One of a few.
The others being...
Right now? Tiger Woods. That's it. And the spectacle of the tournament itself. Come out and have an all-day picnic and get sunburned at the rich man's country club. Or come out and get a swing tip. But players? I think Greg Norman still sells some tickets. Maybe Fred Couples and Phil Mickelson. All the others, you lump together. Part of the spectacle.
How many majors do you think Tiger will win?
Two years ago I would have said 10 or 12, but now I put the over-and-under at 24. He already has nine [including three U.S. Amateurs], he's only 25, and he's proved there's nobody even remotely in his class.
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. Only two things can stop Tiger--injury or a bad marriage.
You believe Nicklaus won for the fun of it, right?
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. Tiger's already doing the same thing.