Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — You have just won a major championship when a tournament writes you a check for first prize in the amount of $1,7010,000, the amount Matt Kuchar, with the Jimmy Carter smile, just received for winning the Players Championship. That is big league, whether you consider the Players a major or not.
This event has been busting out of its seams since its founding in 1974, when Jack Nicklaus was the inaugural winner at the Atlanta Country Club. Deane Beman, who had just succeeded Joe Dey as Commissioner of the Tour, was the first to suggest that the tournament, initially dubbed “TPC” for Tournament Players Championship, might become golf’s fifth major.
With a permanent home at the Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass, the biggest purse, and what is generally considered the best field, the event is major in every respect. Except that the nation’s top columnists are not here and have never been eager to show up — even when the tournament was played in March and you would have thought that those covering spring training would have found a way to stop by.
Dan Jenkins, a Golf Digest columnist who was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame earlier in the week, didn’t hang around — and he once lived here.
If there had been a college football game being played in the area, you would likely see him changing his plans. College football is addictive for this TCU graduate.
Seeing Jenkins inducted into the Hall of Fame was the highlight of the week. It was a deserving honor for a man who has given golf fans more pleasure with his insightful, caustic, and clever commentary in his columns and books, and via his latest gig on Twitter.
While the Players has all of those redeeming features, it does not always offer a lot of excitement. There was more interest in whether Tiger would make the cut than in who might play his way into the winner’s circle.
Returning home to watch the tournament on television, Jenkins offered this appraisal of the tournament: “Boring as hell.”
Only the third writer to be inducted into the Golf Hall of Fame, (after Bernard Darwin and Herbert Warren Wind), Jenkins is one of the great conversationalists, but he never dominates.
He listens as well as he speaks.
His memory is remarkable.
Any colorful or unique viewpoint may become fodder for his next essay or book.
Years ago, I told him about a basketball player whose parents named him Car Radio Murphy.
Next thing I know, “Carradio” is the subject of a column in Playboy.
On a flight from Edinburgh to London one summer, I told him about the naming of twin boys in some rural setting, causing him to spill his coffee. Seems that a mother had difficulty settling on names for her twin boys.
She finally chose the names Orange Jello and Lime Jello.
Jenkins’s next novel featured Orangelo and Limongelo as twin halfbacks at TCU.
We have spent countless hours at major golf tournaments talking college football while the rest of the media gang rushes to the mass interview of players like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia.
“You never learn anything in those interviews,” he says.
When he talks about playing golf with Ben Hogan, you feel that you are cocking an ear to history. Although he has a cynical bent in print, Jenkins is sentimental, conservative and appreciative of traditions and history.
At 82, crossing the Atlantic for the British Open each summer is not easy, but he’ll be there because he loves the game of golf and respects its traditions and history.
He has great reverence for the sport he writes about irreverently.