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LORAN SMITH: Golf writer Jenkins a special storyteller

Loran Smith

Loran Smith

AUGUSTA — Dan Jenkins, the celebrated writer with a word processor every bit as gifted as Bobby Jones once described O. B. Keeler’s typewriter, would scoff at the notion of iconic status, but the recurring interview requests this week refute any and all of his disclaimers. Writers only write about writers when they are Hall of Famers like Jenkins.

Dan is the sage and wizened golf writer whose readers can’t get enough. A column in Golf Digest or a tweet from Augusta National this week are but teasers. Appetizers, perhaps. If you want the main course Dan Jenkins, you order post haste his semi-memoir (His Ownself) which Doubleday, their ownselves, will ship to you over night. You want this book now. Not after it gets marked down. Too much to miss out on while you are being frugal. It is already into a second printing. The best thing you can say about this “His Ownself”, which is heavy with golf musings, is that you would enjoy reading it if you are not a sports fan.

It has been my good fortune to know Jenkins since the Sixties when he was with Sports Illustrated which let him overwhelm his readers with his love of football and golf which would probably finish in a dead heat when it came to popularity in Texas when Dan was establishing “hisself” at Paschal High, and subsequently T. C. U., in his native Ft. Worth (and TCU)—the home of oil wildcatters, which gave the sports world, in addition to Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Davey O’Brien and Sammy Baugh, the versatile Jenkins who learned under Blackie Sherrod, one of the cutting edge sports editors in the days following World War II; when newspapers were entrenched, and Sports Illustrated was emerging into one of the best magazines on the landscape.

There is so much to appreciate about Jenkins’ stuff. His wit and humor, his remembrances and his knowledge. While many of his friends, along with the stars he has written about for years, have experienced Alzheimer’s afflictions, Dan still writes without taking notes. Nobody has ever accused him of misquoting anybody. He has one of the truly great minds in journalism. He never misses anything. He never forgets anything. He is the writing profession’s Jack Nicklaus, who remembers details like the rest of us remembering to brush our teeth.

Hogan appears often in Dan’s semi-memoir. How could it be any other way? Jenkins knew Hogan better than most of the golfers on tour in Ben’s era. He drank with Hogan, he played golf with Hogan, he wrote about Hogan and he promotes Hogan with the same passion he reserves for his alma mater. He wears T.C.U. caps and clothing and can’t hide his feelings for the Horned Frogs. He knew Davey O’Brien and Sammy Baugh who were superstars who never smote their breasts and never danced into anybody’s end zone. If you say something funny in his presence, he won’t forget it. It might wind up in his next novel. For example, he likes to quote his friend Blackie Sherrod on why Blackie smokes Capri cigarettes. “He says they cure emphysema.”

This is Jenkins 64th Masters, and by my reckoning, I have shared a press tent meal with him on 50 of those tournaments. There have been countless U. S. Opens and British Opens, and a few PGA’s, where we have dined on hamburgers, hotdogs—even haggis—and college football.

An old editorial in the Augusta Chronicle surfaced this week—it had taken Jenkins to task for addressing the shortcomings of the old Bon Air Hotel, once an emerald in greater Augusta resort times of long ago. It had seen its better days when Dan’s tongue-in-cheek disdain for its inadequateness as a residence was published in SI. Bon Air ownership sued Jenkins, Sports Illustrated and Time-Life, the case going all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court which, in essence, said that Dan’s humor was not grounds for damages. Dan’s take on it today?

“Any hotel which does not have room service, the water comes out orange—you leave your shoes outside your room to be shined and you never see them again—is vulnerable to serious critique. I was ready. I happened to have a typewriter.” That vignette is not in “His Ownself.” Like a lot more which he didn’t have room for, but fortunately will be in his next book. After laughing my way through “His Ownself,” I can’t wait to read “Unplayable Lies.”