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The Loop

With Hall induction, Jenkins rightly takes his place among golf's icons

May 07, 2012

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- In his novel You Gotta Play Hurt, a sportswriter's euphemism for working with a hangover, Dan Jenkins discusses his relationship with editors, or one particular type of editor, in any case. As is with anything ever written by Jenkins, the only way to do his words justice is to let them speak on their own. This is the opening paragraph of that book:

"Here's how I want the phony little conniving, no-talent, preppiewad [bleep!] of an editor to die: I lace his decaf with Seconal and strap him down in such a way that his head is fastened to my desk and I thump him at cheery intervals with the carriage on my Olympia standard. I'm a stubborn guy who still works on a geezer-codger manual anyhow, so I write a paragraph I admire, the kind he likes to [bleep!] around with, especially if it's my lead, then I slip the carriage at him, and whack -- he gets it in the temple, sometimes the ear. Yeah, it would be slow, but death by typewriter is what the [bleep!] deserves."

That is the kind of imagination and humor, delivered for more than 60 years, that earned Jenkins a spot Monday in the World Golf Hall of Fame, only the third writer given that honor and the first not to receive it posthumously. Entering the WGHOF with Jenkins is Phil Mickelson, whose 40 PGA Tour victories include four majors; Hollis Stacy, who won three U.S. Women's Opens and is the only person to win three consecutive U.S. Girls Junior Championships; Sandy Lyle, winner of 29 events worldwide; and Peter Alliss, who has been a golf broadcaster for more than 50 years.

But even more than his best-selling novels, Jenkins joined journalists Bernard Darwin and Herbert Warren Wind in the WGHOF because he reinvented sports writing. 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. Both blew up the form and invented a new one.

"First of all, I feel I ought to be sitting out there," Jenkins said Monday as he addressed reporters prior to his induction. Asked what had change in his 60 years as a sportswriter he said, "In the majors I used to be able to park by the clubhouse and the players used to talk to me."

Jenkins, 82, attended Pascal High School and then Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and proudly points out he joins Fort Worth legends Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson in the WGHOF. He started his professional career with the Fort Worth Press, went to Sports Illustrated in the 1960s, helping make it a bastion of great sportswriters, and joined Golf Digest in 1985.

Dan still writes for Golf Digest and delights in tweeting from major championships, earning him the title the "Ancient Twitterer". "I think I'm the only one Bubba hasn't hugged, but it's early," he tweeted after Bubba Watson won the Masters. That Masters was the 210th major covered by Dan, one of the few writers left who, when he writes about Hogan, Snead and Nelson can do so from personal experience.

When asked what touched him the most about his inclusion in the WGHOF, Jenkins said: "On the walkway, they had the good sense to put me next to Hogan, who is probably why I am here."

While Dan can be pointed in his writing, he is never cruel. And he always obeys a rule he once told me: "I never sacrifice the truth for a laugh." Of the 92 Ian Baker-Finch shot in the British Open, Jenkins wrote: "Baker-Finch went out in 44 and back in 48, which sounds a little like someone's World War II service record." It's the kernel of truth that makes it funny.

The two times a writer walks the tightrope of creativity without a net is when endeavoring humor or poetry. In both cases, it either works or it doesn't. There are no foul balls when trying to be funny. No one among sports writers had a higher success rate than Dan Jenkins. And he did it with an elegant ease that disguised how hard he worked.

One of the great pleasures of my career has been the many dinners at major championships I have had with Dan during the 14 years I have worked for Golf World. Any time we are at a major championship together, I try to dine with him as often as I can. It didn't take me long to realize that Dan is always writing, that there is no off position on the genius switch.

After a couple of sessions at the bar together, where several of us would laugh at Dan's words, I began to realize that some of what he was saying would later appear in his Golf Digest story. Like a comedian appearing with Johnny Carson, Dan was trying lines out on us. If it got a laugh, it made the cut.

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.

That work ethic, and an enormous amount of talent, made Dan Jenkins a Hall of Fame writer. He went from typewriter to Twitter and persimmon to titanium without missing a beat. But that is one of the definitions of genius -- it is timeless. No matter when in history Dan Jenkins had written, he would have been among the best. We are fortunate that it happened to be in our time.

-- Ron Sirak