The Dan Jenkins I knew was a fraud. He made it look too easy.
“They should lower every pin flag on all 18 holes at The Masters in his honor. There will never be another Dan Jenkins.”—Ron Higgins.
By BUDDY MARTIN
I can still see him at Calvert’s on Berckmans Road in Augusta, standing there at the end of the bar, never sitting, tilting back that glass of JB & water and dragging on that Winston cigarette, holding court with a half dozen eclectic, hand-picked dudes. None of us had much in common otherwise except a love for golf and college football, and Dan.
He would later close down the joint, usually overserved, always picking up the tab. Tomorrow, without missing a beat, it was back upstairs to the Augusta National veranda in time for bacon and eggs, and later a burger and a Coke and peach cobbler, where he held forth at a long table with a different set of cronies, always with one eye toward the monster hand-operated leaderboard beside No. 18 green, the other on a TV set.
(He would have hated that BTW reference and run-on sentence.)
If the press box had a superstar, it was Dan Jenkins. We all wanted to be like him. It was a joy to just hear the rat-tat-tat of his Royal typewriter in the old Quonset hut at the Masters where he magically appeared on Sunday night to put the finishing touches on his Sports Illustrated masterpiece, sort of an “Opus 1: Cathedral of the Pines” in double-time.
He called it “just typing.” Which is like Neil Armstrong calling his mission to the moon “just flying.” As his daughter Sally said, he was conning everybody with that B.S. line, “All I did was know people and type.” Polar opposite of what Pulitzer Prize winner Red Smith described as “opening a vein and bleeding it on the page.”
Most of all we wanted to TYPE like Dan, even if not as fast. If we could only just trip the light fantastic on the keyboard for a sentence or two, as if hijacking a Gene Kelly move from Singing In The Rain! Never mind those millions of brilliant words he strung together in all those books and magazines which he bled out. And the incredible work ethic that would never let that brilliant mind rest or waste an ounce of time. His brain was always typing.
Dan Jenkins was beautifully humble among colleagues, but often sufficiently arrogant among others because he was more famous than 90 percent of the people he interviewed or wrote about. That brash, supremely confident guy Carly Simon wrote and sang about in “You’re So Vain.” The Swagger well earned. Who else could actually tell Tiger Woods to “kiss my a–” in print without actually ever saying those words? Sorry Tiger, but Hisownself was there first, with sweat equity in every azalea, dogwood, or shimmering green blade of grass at Augusta National, putting bricks in the foundation of the game that made you rich and famous.
“Jenkins, who died Thursday at 90, loved college football most, but he wrote some of everything. On a Mount Rushmore of sportswriters, Dan would be alongside Grantland Rice, Red Smith, and Jim Murray. In time, like most every sportswriter of my generation, I wanted to be Dan Jenkins. What a life. There’s Clarke’s, Elaine’s, Toots Shor’s, the Park Avenue apartment, the beautiful wife, June. (“In all my books, I’m the guy and June is the girl, and I always get the girl.”) There’s the getaway place in Hawaii, the “Semi-Tough” quarterback Billy Clyde Puckett, the sportswriter Jim Tom Pinch in “You Gotta Play Hurt,” and the movie “Baja Oklahoma” (with its immortal 10 stages of drunkenness, ending with “9. Invisible” and “10. Bulletproof”).” … (He) loved college football most, but he wrote some of everything. — Dave Kindred, Washington Post
Not only did we all wish we could write like him or smoke a cigarette like him, we also wouldn’t mind looking a little like him. The wrap-around wire-frame glasses and that distinctly-Jenkins Safari jacket. At one time or the other many of us considered buying the Safari jacket, including me, but deep down we knew we couldn’t pull it off. He virtually trademarked the look.
When he died Thursday, a gazillion people did a whip-out of photos taken with him or brandished their anecdotes like photos of grandchildren. As if they had an obligation to let the world know that they had a selfie with him, or had once eaten a pimento cheese sandwich while sitting across from him in the Masters Press Center, or maybe finally got up the nerve one day to ask him for an autograph at a U.S. Open. Akin, in their mind, to swapping a life experience with The Greatest Sports Writer who ever lived. Like they had fist-bumped the Pope and later shared a pizza at the Vatican.
I even felt bit like a phony diletante myself for doing a similar thing, a little dirty, answering the call of my muse who kept demanding words — although Dan and I were actually legitimate friends. I once offered him a job at the New York Daily News, a ballsy move, but Sports Illustrated was treating him like crap. He declined, of course, but always appreciated the gesture.
Later we lived a mile or so from each other in Ponte Vedra for a year in 1990 and sometimes found ourselves dining or playing golf or bridge together or maybe sharing a commercial plane ride to a cover a golf tournament.
“Jenkins was the most influential golf writer ever and the most influential college football writer ever, but if you dwell on that, you somehow undersell him. He was simply the most influential sportswriter ever. His work unquestionably begat the generation that followed him: greats like Tony Kornheiser, Rick Reilly, Mike Lupica and Bob Verdi, and also Sally Jenkins, who managed the damn-near-impossible feat of being so good that nobody in the business thinks of her as Dan’s daughter first.” — Michael Rosenberg, Sports Illustrated
Upon news of his death at 4 a.m. Friday March 7, I immediately tweeted: “They can turn out the lights in all the press boxes now, Dan Jenkins has finally quit typing. He died Thursday in his beloved Fort Worth, Texas. The only thing that could have stopped stopped those graciously sculpted, pricelessly funny, appropriately irreverent, perfectly chosen words — hell, I can’t even find the right way to describe the magic that flowed from his typewriter — was the grim reaper.”
I admit it — I even tried to write it in the Dan Jenkins genre. Epic Fail. Nobody can write like Dan Jenkins. Was it a tribute or simply hero-worship?
I’ll even admit to once changing my online text font I used for my AOL emailing with him to the bold face style that he had chosen. Maybe it would help me write better?
So this would be a journalistic felony to write something inauthentic about maybe the most authentic writer I ever knew. Even if he did write semi-fiction and was sometimes bawdy, bombastic, outrageous, given to aggrandizement. That was just style. And it was awesome.
“One thing you knew is that Dan could be trusted. He never sacrificed accuracy for a good laugh. They say comedy is all about timing. Well, Dan Jenkins’ humor was timeless…” — Jack Nicklaus
About three hours after I learned of his death, I felt the urge to write or do or say something.
Immediately I went to my studio and mapped out a one-hour podcast for my only show. I Skyped in five writers/broadcasters who had known, admired and respected Dan and shared it on Facebook “The Buddy Martin Show” which is still posted. Tim Rosaforte, Bob Harig, Ron Sirak, Franz Beard and John Fineran graciously weighed in with their remembrances.
One comment in particular that resonated with me was from Sirak of Golf Digest, who told me: “Dan wrote a game story like it was a short story.”
Paul Finebaum asked if I could be on his SEC Network show and tell his viewers about Dan, which I gladly did, even if ineptly. If you never read him or read about Hisownself, it was a waste of time.
For the next three days all I did was pull up every story, every tweet, every morsel on Jenkins I could find, some of which are repeated in this story. I wanted to write and talk about Dan Jenkins.
Mid-morning Friday I went into my reading room on a scavenger hunt, looking for the copies of his books. Dan had actually — and I find it hard to believe myself — driven most of those books to my Ponte Vedra house virtually unannounced one day 28 years ago. How could I deserve that? Dan Jenkins, Fed Ex man. I have since learned to treasure them even more.
Memories came cascading back and I began to make notes the day after his death. Like the time we were covering the U.S. Open at Medinah and Dan got a call in the press center from the White House — George Bush 41 wanting to know if he could get together for a round of golf. Presidents wanted to be in the presence of Hisownself as well. (They did meet and play several weeks later.)
That Monday our plane to Jacksonville was delayed at O’Hara by weather and Dan suggested we try an alternative flight, which was available — but for another $500. I balked, explaining that my newspaper (The Florida Times-Union) wouldn’t go for it. “I’ll buy you a damned airplane ticket,” he snarled. And gladly he would have, but the weather cleared up.
He wasn’t wealthy but he lived in a swanky Ponte Vedra Beach house, though not a mansion. He and his wife June owned a restaurant in Jacksonville Beach. Once it got robbed but when cops ran down the robber and unmasked him, the dastardly thief turned out to be the cook. Perhaps a sign of the Apocalypse? Dan woke up one day realized, “I’m trying to live like Greg Norman.” And so he packed for Texas.
They moved to Fort Worth, where he could “see the press box ” at TCU’s Amon G. Carter Field. In the spring of 20187 they christened it “Dan Jenkins “Press Box.”
Once Dan drove from Augusta to New York after the Masters and he graciously agreed to drop me in Washington D.C. I only wish I had taped the conversation, but it would have been intrusive.
That eight hours we shared in the car was priceless as he regaled me with stories about growing up with his grandmother in Fort Worth. His grandfather, E.L. Jenkins, was a 1930s U.S. marshal and sometimes-barber. They had taken over parental duties after his mother and father divorced. A relative brought Dan an old typewriter and, to wile away loneliness of the afternoons, Dan would retype stories from the Fort Worth Press and Fort Worth Star-Telegram, as if transforming into an intrepid war correspondent or famous sports writer by retracing those words. He did the former, becoming the sports editor/columnist of the Press — the beginning of the ascent to New York and Sports Illustrated.
After our DC road trip, the first thought came to me: Why didn’t Dan write an autobiography? I would ask him ad nauseum every time we were together for the next 15 years, not knowing that his daughter Sally had been urging him to do the same. He always said his life “just isn’t interesting enough.” Whhhaaaaat? Power lunches at the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hilton, with movie stars and famous producers cavorting about? … Cocktails in the Terrace Lounge at Pebble Beach with golf and show biz royalty? … Famous authors and actors at Elaine’s on New York’s East Side? … TV and writer pals over burgers at P.J. Clarke’s.?And we won’t even go overseas.
Yet his heart was in college football which he no longer covered, but consumed voraciously. When we would take a smoke break at The Players Championships or an Open — “The Smoking Lamp is Lit,” he would beckon — almost always we talked college football. He taught me it was okay to pull for your team, just not so much in print. And I was thrilled for him that TCU’s rise to prominence offered him a chance to adore his Horned Frogs.
In 2008 when my friend and scholarly writing coach Roy Peter Clark were angling to have Dan speak at the sports writing summit at the Poynter Media Institute — the gold standard for journalism and writing — I exchanged emails with Dan. I wanted to be sure about the brand of Scotch he preferred and check in on the status of his Froggies. He responded in this typeface of his choice):
J&B is correct. Not that I can do much damage to it anymore.
Herman Gollob has edited nearly all of my novels, starting with Semi-Tough. He’s retired now but I consult him constantly, and I can’t think of anything we disagree on, from football to politics. Best Texas Aggie I’ve ever known, and one of the smartest people on the planet. Herman is a serious Shakespeare scholar, so naturally he understands Billy Clyde Puckett.
Poynter is better than we journalists deserve. Wonderful facility, and Roy Peter Clark is a prince among ink-stained wretches.
Having been there and met many of them, I no longer feel as hopeless as I did about the younger generation of typists.
Turns out Dan was energized and, being able to share the table with other noted writers — like his daughter Sally — looked forward to coming back. Clark and I presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for writing, which prompted Dan to write me back:
Truly enjoyed and was flattered to be treated like an endangered species at Poynter. Always fun to talk football with you. I don’t have Roy Peter Clark’s email, but please tell him that the “trophy” arrived safely today and will be cherished warmly till the end of time, or TCU, whichever comes first.
Stay in touch.
Finally, in 2014, the universe gave us Hisownself: A Semi-Memoir, which reads on the first few pages:
“The fact is, I’ve been the luckiest sumbitch ever allowed to make a living as a writer. Luckier still that June and I found each other. We’ve produced three wonderful kids — Sally, Marty and Danny. We enjoy great friends from high school, college journalism and sports. We’re still laughing and loving our way through life after 54 years (in 2014) together.
“It’s hardly news that there’s trouble, strife, and entanglements in everybody’s life. But when messy things happen, I tend fo fall back on Billy Clyde Puckett’s words….’Laughter is the only thing that cut’s trouble down to a size where you dan talk about it.’”
Sally felt like that last one was pretty much an unofficial epitaph.
Probably my favorite memory is the one in 1990 when he called me to play a twosome at one of the Sawgrass courses. He was trying to get out more. Besides, he wouldn’t dare smoke in front of June at home, so he’d pick up a pack of contraband Winstons and hide them in his golf bag. We sneak smoked them all day. You have to remember that back in his day, they all smoked. Arnie and Jack included. Nicklaus and I smoked a half-pack of L&Ms in his hotel room one day during an interview while he was playing the Westchester Classic and I was conducting an interview.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever read ‘Dead Solid Perfect,’” Dan said to me around the third hole. “But they made it into a movie and it’s on HBO tonight.”
I said I’d be sure and watch, which I did, and enjoyed. The movie starred Dennis Quaid as Kenny Lee, as described in the LA Times review, “whose performance and marriage are beginning to show the strain of touring the circuit for eight years.”
Dan was once a scratch golfer, a member the TCU golf team, who — it is said by some, but unconfirmed — that Ben Hogan once encouraged to try pro golf. By the time we were playing that day at Sawgrass, those skills had eroded, but were still far better than mine (a 22 handicapper). During our round, several times, Jenkins hit a vicious hook to the rough or beyond.
“Hook some more @#%^*(@$ (expletive),” he would yell at nobody in particular.
Later that night, while viewing HBO, I found out why. Hitting an errant shot to his left, Kenny Lee would yell, “ “Hook some more @#%^*(@$ (expletive).”
That’s the tipoff that Dan really didn’t write fiction. It was just His ownself’s life imitating art.
“A new manuscript of a novel my father just finished is still open on his desk — he was working on it on his last day at home before he fell and broke his hip and the congestive heart failure had its final say, from all the bacon and cigarettes. The novel, titled “The Reunion At Herb’s Café,” tells readers where his major fictional characters ended up. (It will be published by TCU Press.) His most famous and true creation was Billy Clyde Puckett, a sort of composite of all the dashing NFLers he knew. I stood over the manuscript this morning in tears, then read a line and almost spit my coffee.In the book, Billy Clyde is a retired old man, with two dogs. He named them Tom and Giselle…
“I don’t know that you can say anything higher about a guy than that his children preferred his company to all others and his approval to all the credit in the world. I was so lucky to be his.” — Sally Jenkins
Buddy Martin is a New York Times best-selling author, a distinguished, third-generation, Florida-born-and-raised journalist who has won nearly 200 awards. In 2016, he co-authored Amazon’s No. 1 selling college football book,“Head Ball Coach: My Life in Football,” with former Florida, South Carolina and Duke coach Steve Spurrier, published by Blue Rider Press. Martin also authored “Urban’s Way,” the official biography of former Ohio State and Florida coach Urban Meyer, and Buddy’s fourth book on Gator football. In addition, Buddy co-authored the autobiographies of two Hall of Fame athletes: Terry Bradshaw, “Looking Deep,” and Dan Issel, “Parting Shots.”