The Hostile Voice Speaks
I'm not alone in saying my favorite golf book is The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate, by our Writer-at-Large, Dan Jenkins. An old golf buddy, Rusty Lindner, told me he keeps copies next to his bed, the dinner table and every chair in which he might sit at home. It's funnier than "The Book of Mormon" on Broadway, and it put more people into journalism than All the President's Men, me being one of them.
Last month in this space, Jaime Diaz, the new Editor-in-Chief of Golf World, called the 1970 classic "the greatest golf book ever." He says, "Dan's writing was so good, sportswriting itself would change to be more like Dan's."
Jenkins created the language of golf that the rest of us just adopted. We all thought we came from Texas like Hogan and Nelson and Dan. We played golf with guys named Moron Tom and Foot the Free on courses called Goat Hills. When we hit a good shot, we'd shout, "Cod Yrac Ffocelddim," which Jenkins taught us is Doc Cary Middlecoff spelled backward.
We drank see-throughs, didn't think smoking was a felony, believed TPC was something kids sniffed behind the 7-Eleven, and devoured peach cobbler until a wisteria vine climbed up our fork.
If Nicklaus and Palmer couldn't win, we pulled for Crenshaw or Raymond or, God help us, Lanny Wadkins. And we rooted against the lurkers, point-missers, rally-killers and horsemen of the Apocalypse named North, Simpson, O'Meara and McCumber.Dan introduced us to the great characters of golf lore like America's Guest, George Low; the Pro of 52nd Street, David Marr; and the writer Bob Drum, whose Irish voice he compared to the percussion section of the Ohio State Marching Band. Dan told us about the cool places like Elaine's in New York, where he'd direct you to the men's room by saying, "Go to Michael Caine and take a right."
Dan taught us not to take the big guys so seriously. After Greg Norman's collapse at Augusta in 1996, when Norman said if he'd taken the time to study medicine, he could have been a brain surgeon: "Maybe so," wrote Jenkins, "but he wouldn't operate on this cowboy--not on Sundays, anyhow."
He taught us to loathe corporate logos and make fun of tournament sponsors: "You got two kinds now: One kind wants his picture taken with Scott Hoch, and the other kind wants Mark Calcavecchia to marry his daughter."
He reinvented himself as the Ancient Twitterer, a medium made for his humor: "Sir Laurence Olivier? Of course. Sir Nick Faldo? Are you kidding me?"
He taught us when you're sitting around, you never know when you're finished. He taught us how to eat spiral ham out of the refrigerator or chicken fried steak with cream gravy and biscuits. He taught us you could be the funniest guy in the room by sitting quietly and listening. And he taught us that even sportswriters could fly first-class, employ a chauffeur and live in a penthouse on "Park Street," as he called his Manhattan address.
Jenkins loved it when David Ogrin called him "a hostile voice of a previous generation." Dan says the line he wants on his headstone is "Sorry if you couldn't take a joke."
Who else but Jenkins would be sitting with us scribes at the Ryder Cup when the door flings open and the President and First Lady, George H.W. and Barbara Bush, rush across the media lounge to give him a hug. "I bet the King of England never stopped by to see Bernard Darwin," said our pal Bev Norwood.
"I tend to go to major championships these days the way Dorothy Kilgallen used to go to murder trials," Jenkins once wrote. "I don't cover golf tournaments anymore--I preside over them."
At the annual Golf Writers Dinner at the Masters last year, I had the floor for a minute and used the microphone to point out the travesty that was Dan Jenkins not being in the World Golf Hall of Fame. I said, "He's contributed more to golf than nine-tenths of the current Hall of Famers." Afterward, Jack Peter, the head of the Hall, came over to me and said, "Nine-tenths?"
In May, Dan finally gets golf's greatest honor. Well done, Dan. I take back everything I said, Jack, except for the "nine-tenths" part.