Word­smith leaves legacy

Jenk­ins, who died at 90, made tough writ­ing look easy

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Sports - By Doug Fer­gu­son

Rory McIl­roy trails leader Matt Fitz­patrick by one shot en­ter­ing Sun­day’s fi­nal round of the Arnold Palmer In­vi­ta­tional.

OR­LANDO, Fla. — Dan Jenk­ins only wanted to be a sports writer, even if that meant turn­ing down the best player he ever saw.

Jenk­ins told the story in 2012 when he was in­ducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. He was only the third writer en­shrined, and the first “to be taken in as a ver­ti­cal hu­man.” He never took any oc­ca­sion too se­ri­ously, and read­ers laughed be­cause so much of it was true.

Years ago, Jenk­ins was play­ing with his hero, Ben Ho­gan, at Colo­nial Coun­try Club in Fort Worth, Texas, when Ho­gan of­fered to train him three days a week for four months. Ho­gan fig­ured that would be enough for Jenk­ins to qual­ify for the U.S. Am­a­teur.

“And I said, ‘Ben, I’m flat­tered and I ap­pre­ci­ate that, and I’m em­bar­rassed to have to turn down an of­fer of free golf lessons from the great­est player in the world, but I just want to be a sports writer. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be,’ ” Jenk­ins said that night.

Jenk­ins re­called the cold stare, the long pause and even­tu­ally a smile from Ho­gan who told him, “Well, keep work­ing at it.”

Jenk­ins did that, too, right up un­til he died Thurs­day night at age 89.

He saw his first ma­jor in the 1941 U.S. Open when he was 11. He cov­ered the first of 231 ma­jor cham­pi­onships in the 1951 Mas­ters when he was still at TCU, work­ing for the Fort Worth Press un­der the late, great Blackie Sher­rod. He wrote 23 books, in­clud­ing best-sell­ers like “Semi-Tough” and “Dead Solid Per­fect.”

He started on a stan­dard type­writer. He fin­ished on Twit­ter.

Along the way, he re­shaped Amer­i­can sports writ­ing with words for­mu­lated by acer­bic ob­ser­va­tions.

He wrote what oth­ers only thought.

“He de­fined not just a gen­er­a­tion of golf writ­ers, but he de­fined the sport,” Jerry Tarde, the ed­i­tor-in­espe­cially Jenk­ins re­ceives a life­time achieve­ment award at the World Golf Hall of Fame in­duc­tion.

chief at Golf Di­gest said Fri­day evening. “He taught us how to write golf, talk golf, smoke golf, drink golf. He just cre­ated the mod­ern lan­guage of golf. He made it fun.”

Jenk­ins worked for the Fort Worth Press and Dal­las Times-Her­ald, and he rose to star­dom at Sports Il­lus­trated with his two pas­sions, golf and col­lege foot­ball.

He lived for a short time in Ponte Ve­dra Beach, where he got his first taste of Florida foot­ball. This was be­fore Steve Spurrier be­came head coach, be­fore the mighty Ga­tors had won so much as an SEC ti­tle. “They have the at­ti­tude of Alabama and the ac­com­plish­ments of Wake For­est,” Jenk­ins said.

In golf, no one was safe,

if they didn’t have the pedi­gree of Ho­gan or By­ron Nel­son, Arnold Palmer or Jack Nick­laus. Jenk­ins never got the chance to know Tiger Woods the same way. The idea of a din­ner, on or off the record, was met by “We have noth­ing to gain” from Woods’ agent.

Jack Nick­laus was out of the coun­try Fri­day and still weighed in on a writer he said could make him laugh “even when he wasn’t try­ing.”

“Golf lost a great friend in Dan Jenk­ins,” Nick­laus said. “Like more great friends — those who know just how to make you smile, laugh and en­ter­tain you — Dan was able to do that through his writ­ing. One thing you al­ways knew is that Dan could be trusted. He never sac­ri­ficed ac­cu­racy for a

good laugh.”

There were plenty of laughs, at least for the read­ers.

Ernie Els says that Jenk­ins “was not that nice to me,” with­out men­tion­ing what was writ­ten. No mat­ter. The Big Easy has big per­spec­tive. He says he read Jenk­ins of­ten and re­ferred to him as an “ab­so­lute leg­end.”

“In your world, he must have been a Jack Nick­laus,” Els said to a group of re­porters at Bay Hill. “What a sense of humor. What a gift to write. It feels like the last cou­ple of years, he was on us a lit­tle. His fa­vorite gen­er­a­tion was the Ho­gan, Nick­laus, Palmer era. I can’t hold that against him. I’m also a fan of that gen­er­a­tion. But what a guy. What a big loss for jour­nal­ism. Our gen­er­a­tion, we just missed him.”

If not for Tarde, an­other gen­er­a­tion might have missed him, too.

Jenk­ins was ush­ered out at Sports Il­lus­trated in 1984 when Tarde hired him late in the year, with some skep­ti­cism. Jenk­ins was 54. Some thought his best days were be­hind him. More than 30 years later, Jenk­ins was still go­ing strong.

Tarde said Jenk­ins’ wife, June, felt as though the mag­a­zine “threw us a life pre­server.”

“In fact, he threw us one,” Tarde said. “He was a mag­net for tal­ent. I don’t know if I was smart enough to know it at the time, but I very quickly learned that when Dan Jenk­ins was on your team, a lot of peo­ple wanted to be on that team. Dave Marr, Alis­ter Cooke, Tom Brokaw, a lot of the greats of our life­time — not just in golf or sports — wanted to hang with him. And we all got smarter.”

He be­gan writ­ing for Golf Di­gest in 1985, and in his sec­ond year with the mag­a­zine, watched Nick­laus charge to a 65 to win the Mas­ters for a sixth time at age 46. Jenk­ins later re­called sev­eral writ­ers freez­ing over a story that big. Tarde re­calls a smile on Jenk­ins’ face as he be­gan writ­ing what he thought, with seem­ingly lit­tle ef­fort. His open­ing line:

“If you want to put golf back on the front pages again and you don’t have a Bobby Jones or a Fran­cis Ouimet handy, here’s what you do: You send an ag­ing Jack Nick­laus out in the last round of the Mas­ters and let him kill more for­eign­ers than a gen­eral named Eisen­hower.”

Jenk­ins was feted at the 2009 PGA Cham­pi­onship at Hazel­tine for pub­lish­ing, “Jenk­ins at the Ma­jors: Sixty Years of the World’s Best Sports Writ­ing, from Ho­gan to Tiger.”

He had an­other decade ahead of him. His first ma­jor was Ho­gan beat­ing Skee Riegel. His last ma­jor was Patrick Reed beat­ing Rickie Fowler.

It’s a record un­likely to be touched.

“I never wanted to do any­thing else,” Jenk­ins said at the 2009 PGA. “So I wasn’t go­ing any­where.”

WILL DICKEY/FLORIDA TIMES-UNION 2012 VIA AP

PHELAN M. EBENHACK/AP

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