A Quick 18 with Dan Jenkins
Dan Jenkins

Dan Jenkins

Dan Jenkins has been one of America's funniest sportswriters for 60 years, author of classic sports novels like the "Semi-Tough" and "Dead Solid Perfect". We caught up the 87-year old Texan, a close friend of Ben Hogan's, as he covered his 67th consecutive Masters. He's still unapologetically old-school in a PC era and remains one of US sportswriting's patron saints, who took to heart some early advice — “See how many paragraphs you can go before you put the score in.”

  • Handicap: Formerly scratch

  • Clubs: Forth Worth, Colonial

1 How's your golf?

I'm not healthy enough to play any more, but I don't miss it. I'm around it all the time. The best round I ever had was 65. I had maybe three of those, but I never beat anyone. I was just a good local player. 

2 You played a lot of golf with Ben Hogan. That sounds like the start of a fairytale?

I was covering him. Same town. One day I was out watching him practice and he said, "Let's go." And I said, "Where?" And he said, "Let's go play." I must have played with him 40 times all through the 50s when he was at his peak. He was great to me.

3 The dream gig.

I know. I finally got used to it and he became a friend. Eventually, I wasn't in awe all the time and I was able to get it around in the mid-70s playing with him.

Ben Hogan seated on back of car in homecoming parade on Broadway, Photo by Dick DeMarsico

Ben Hogan seated on back of car in homecoming parade on Broadway, Photo by Dick DeMarsico

4 So what's your best Ben Hogan tip?

He called me at the paper one day in '56 and said, "We're going to play an exhibition together next week at Colonial for the US Olympic Fund." And I said, "We?"  And he said, "Yeah, I want you in the foursome." So first hole, par five, I topped a three-wood. Scraped a five-iron. Happened all through the front nine. So Ben comes over to me and says, "You could probably swing faster if you tried hard enough." Best tip I ever got. I slowed it down and shot 75 or 76. He shot his usual 67. That was my crowning moment.

5 Did you ever take his money?

We played Colonial one day and I shot a 31 on the back nine, made every damned putt I looked at, and won $5 from him. I said I can't take your money, Ben, I feel guilty after making all those putts. And he said, "Yes you can. Never apologise for winning." That's how he thought.

6 How did you get started in golf?

I was eight years old. Everybody in the family played. It was a game of style. You wanted to swing like Snead, or Hogan or Byron Nelson. I played golf with all three of them somewhere along the way over the years. And Nicklaus, Palmer and Player too. They were all great. All the greats were great. They were the best people, the best interviews, the best everything.

7 You appeared to love writing about those characters, describing  Rex Caldwell as “such a hot dog there isn’t enough mustard in America to cover him.” What did these guys have in common?

They had a humility they don't have now. Jack was the greatest interview in the world, Arnold was the sweetest person in the world, Gary was always helpful and talkative. That, plus it was more a gentleman's game. It wasn't a power game until Jack. But he was still terrific.

8 There weren't a lot of privileged golf snobs back in the day in Texas, I take it?

No, the Texans are pretty self-deprecating. Most made it on their own. There weren't many inheritors of wealth. They were either rugged oil men, wildcaters, ranchers or farmers. There were no beards though. It was unthought of.

9  So after seeing them all, who was the greatest?

I think Hogan was the greatest shot-maker. Nicklaus and I agreed that Ben was the greatest shot-maker all through the bag and Jack was the greatest winner.  People talk about comparing eras but if you have an athlete's heart, a will to win and a fear of losing, you can compete in any era. I think Hogan would do very well today. He'd be Jordan Spieth without the putting. He had to win with fairways and greens. Now they win with length and putting. It's all changed. Style and ball striking and course management, nobody thinks about that now. The courses then were ragged. Every f***ing green was different — slow bent, medium bent and fast bent. I count the wartime [US] Open as a major win, so Hogan won all 10 of his Majors without being able to clean his ball on the green. That's a big difference. He won five [US] Opens (four officially) with no double cut around the greens. It was either on the green or in garbage. 

10 What was his secret?

He told me that he always overclubbed. If you overclub, you can be more accurate. But you can't do it now and then, you have to do it all the time. He wanted to guide the ball. He played target golf before anybody called it that. He walked golf courses backwards to know where he didn't want to be. He also practised more than anyone. He invented practice. The secret's in the dirt.

11 Name your dream fourball?

Three guys I grew up with and gambled with. We had fun. Some are still alive. We played gangsomes on the old muni course - eight at a time.

12 If I gave you a mulligan in your career?

There are a few stories I'd like to rewrite. Some you say, 'Who wrote this crap?' And some you say, I can't believe I wrote this well. I was always a deadline guy. I was quick.

13 What's your favourite course?

There are parts of courses I love. The back nine here [at Augutsa]— 11, 12, 13, 14. The quarry holes at Merion, the last three. Seven through 10 at Pebble. Great stretch. Overall? Pine Valley. Cypress Point.

14 What about Europe?

I never got to Portrush, which was a shame because Peter Alliss always said it was his favourite. And I got bored with St Andrews. I like the courses that weren't Open Courses, North Berwick and Western Gailes. And Prestwick because it was so old.  But I played Portmarnock with Joe Carr. It was the hardest course I'd ever played but Joe just mastered it. He was a hell of a golfer.

15 What's the best par three you've ever seen?

The 12th here at Augusta isn't bad. You could do a whole course with the best par threes.

Fort Worth Press sportswriters (clockwise from top left) Jere Todd, Blackie Sherrod, Jenkins, Bud Shrake, and Andy Anderson. Picture via  www.texasmonthly.com

Fort Worth Press sportswriters (clockwise from top left) Jere Todd, Blackie Sherrod, Jenkins, Bud Shrake, and Andy Anderson. Picture via www.texasmonthly.com

16 Augusta National provided the press with a palatial new building this year. But you started covering the Masters from a tent. Did it have electricity?

It was 1951. They had bulbs hanging down, and the telex operator had electricity. They served pimento-cheese and egg-salad sandwiches. Some things never change.

17 Who helped you along the way in your career?

I had a great editor in Blackie Sherrod. He was a great Texas sportswriter who got me to read things I wouldn't have read otherwise. He made me go back into files to see what the greats like Grantland Rice had done before. 

18 What's the best advice you ever got?

In my first job out of college, the editor told me the first obligation of a daily paper is to come out ever day. So stop finger-f***king that story and get it in here. I was always a fast writer, even on the magazines. Get it done. We can always go for the Pulitzer next week. My motto is "Get it right and get it done."

This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent's weekly Tee to Green golf supplement on 27 April 2017. Dan Jenkins was 88 on December 2.