AUGUSTA, Ga. — Friday is Dave Kindred’s birthday. He claims to be 24 because “I’m only counting the birthdays I’ve spent at the Masters,” when it falls later in April.
The number should be 25, but Dave, a longtime Golf Digest contributing editor, has missed one tournament since he first started coming here in 1967. That was in 1986, when he skipped the tournament for his son Jeff’s wedding.
“I told Jeff, if he ever gets married again, it better not be Masters weekend,” Dave likes to say.
Jeff listened. The next time he got married, he picked a different weekend because he wanted his father to be there.
“After what happened in ’86, no way was I going to miss another Masters,” he says.
Actually, knowing Dave, he’d have skipped the Masters—grudgingly—but he’d have been there for Jeff. He’s always been there for family—and for friends.
What happened in ’86, of course, is that Jack Nicklaus shot 30 on the back nine on Sunday and won his 18th and last major title at age 46. It was arguably the most dramatic Masters of Dave Kindred’s 78 years on the planet (sorry, Dave) to date.
“And I missed it,” he says—repeatedly.
One person who thought Dave was in the right place that weekend was Nicklaus, who wrote him a handwritten note telling him he had made the right decision. “Family always comes first,” Nicklaus wrote.
Much of this Masters week has been about Dan Jenkins, who covered 68 Masters and passed away last month at 90. The first person to tell you that Jenkins was the dean of all golf writers is Dave.
In fact, Dave is sitting right next to the empty seat left for Dan, and I’m right next to Dave. This is “only” the 52nd Masters for Dave, though he dearly wishes it was 53.
It is almost impossible to describe just how good Dave Kindred is and has been at what he does. He’s won just about every award there is to win including, most recently, the Dan Jenkins Medal for Excellence in Sportswriting—presented by Dan.
But it goes well beyond that. Dave can write about anything: he was once the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Washington correspondent and wrote a news column for several years at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But his greatest passion has always been sports. He was a good college baseball player—he played second base to Doug Rader’s shortstop at Illinois Wesleyan University. Rader went on to play 11 years in the majors, winning five Gold Gloves.
Dave’s not completely over THAT, either.
Instead, he turned to writing, and the world has been a better place as a result. The best reporter I’ve ever known is Bob Woodward. Dave might be second. He is tireless—to this day he walks as many holes at a golf tournament as anyone wearing a media badge—and he always asks the right questions, whether he’s talking to Nicklaus or talking to a sightless man being guided around Augusta National on Wednesday by his mother.
"I just blundered into them,” Dave said when I asked him how the heck he’d found such a sweet anecdote for his Thursday GolfDigest.com column.
You have to be out there to blunder into stories. After a while, it has to do with a lot more than luck.
I met Dave on my first day at the Washington Post in 1977. It was also his first day—I was a summer intern, he had just been hired as the new sports columnist.
His first column was on George Allen, then the coach of Washington’s NFL football team and, thus, the most important man in town. It was brilliant—insightful, funny and—of course—enough to anger Allen. Dave was off to a rousing start.
Dave became my first mentor at the Post. I used to sit in his office and constantly ask him questions about being a reporter. He undoubtedly had far more important things to do, but he sat and patiently answered my questions—all the time.
Dave wrote a superb book years ago, Sound and Fury, about Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell, filled with poignant and hilarious stories about both men; he knew them both well. In one scene, he describes being in a hotel suite with Ali and his entourage—which was huge. Ali was lying under the covers on the bed and Dave was trying to ask questions in what was a very loud room. Finally, Ali told Dave to come and sit next to him on the bed. Dave complied.
“Get under the covers,” Ali said.
Surprised—confused—Dave did as he was told. It was only then that Dave realized Ali wasn’t wearing any clothes. He asked all the questions he needed to ask before finally escaping. I told him later he should have written a book titled, The Night I Went to Bed with Muhammad Ali.
“What’s the second paragraph?” he asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “The title will sell you a million copies."
Dave can write well and passionately about anything. For the last nine years he has written a regular blog about the Morton Lady Potters—the high school team from the Illinois town where he now lives, having returned to his Midwestern roots a dozen years ago.
Dave has written—I’m not making this up—more than 400,000 words about the Lady Potters. The coach gives him a box of Milk Duds after every game. That’s his pay. Dave loves the kids, and the kids and their families love him.
The Lady Potters have won the state championship four out of the last five years, and Dave sounds like a proud father (grandfather?) when he writes about them. After the Lady Potters won a playoff game this season, he approached the coach of the opposing team to ask him questions about the game.
“No comment,” the coach said, stalking off.
Only Dave Kindred can say he covered Hogan in his last Masters, got a personal letter from Nicklaus after he won the Masters, and got blown off by a girls high school basketball coach from Illinois.
Dave likes to tell the story about the time Dick Fenlon, then his fellow columnist at the Courier-Journal called Adolph Rupp, then the University of Kentucky basketball coach.
“There are two columnists in Louisville,” Rupp said. “One is a good guy and the other is a sonofabitch. Which one are you?”
In Kindred’s telling, Fenlon “tried to convince Rupp that HE was the good guy.”
Trust me, in Rupp’s world, Fenlon WAS the good guy.
One of Dave’s many skills that I’ve never mastered, is his ability to carve someone up in a way that they never notice that they’re bleeding.
As well as he writes about everything, there’s nothing Dave writes better about than golf. He loves to play the game and has a golfer’s feel for it, even though his lowest handicap was about 10.
There’s nothing I enjoy more about the Masters than spending time with Dave. Some of it is just the years of friendship and camaraderie and all the old stories we re-tell every year. Beyond that, I’m still learning from Dave—as a reporter and as a person. He hasn’t figured out yet what he’s writing today. Once he does, he’ll be out there on the golf course, probably “blundering” into a story none of the rest of us will find.
He’ll come back in here, complain for about three hours that he’s got nothing worth writing about and then, magically, he’ll produce the best story of the day.
“Dan covered 68 Masters,” Dave said the other day. “I’d have to be here for 17 more years to pass him.”
With all due respect to Dan, here’s hoping.