Pen mightier than the wedge

By David Mullen

Last week, golf lost a legend. And although he was not a professional player, there has never been a more influential person in the sport throughout the decades.  

Dan Jenkins died, but will not be forgotten. He changed the way people watched golf and sports in general. He was a legend at the typewriter, regularly contributing to daily newspapers and major sports publications and penning a number of bestselling books with a great sense of humor and a keen ability to turn observations into words. 

It was a much different time during the Jenkins era. Daily newspapers were the primary source of news and information, and magazines were relevant. There was no ESPN, Golf Channel or TMZ. Words were king. And Jenkins was the king of words.

To say that Jenkins was irreverent is an understatement. He once told The Washington Post: “My grandmother bought me a typewriter. It sat on the kitchen table. I would take the paper every day, put a piece of paper in and start copying the newspaper story word for word. One day, I started trying to improve on it. I thought, ‘This guy’s an idiot. I can do better than this.’ It hasn’t stopped since.”

 Born on Dec. 2, 1928, in Fort Worth — although he lied about his age — he was raised by his grandparents, aunts and uncles. His parents divorced before his first birthday. Jenkins was married three times including to his wife of 59 years, the former June Burrage of Fort Worth.

In Fort Worth, he learned to play golf at a mecca for the sport at the time, which was also home to Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. Few people know that Jenkins was a scratch golfer and was the golf team captain while attending TCU. He had the privilege of playing practice rounds of golf with the Hall of Famer Hogan.   

But he always had a great interest in writing. In 1948, he began at the Fort Worth Press working with local icon Blackie Sherrod. Even though he was working at the newspaper, Jenkins continued his studies and graduated from TCU in 1953.

He worked briefly at The Dallas Times Herald before he moved to New York City and joined the prestigious magazine Sports Illustrated in 1963. He was known for his tough reporting and hard drinking. In his book chronicling the history of Sports Illustrated titled, “The Franchise,” author Michael MacCambridge wrote that Jenkins was, “Charismatic and known as a remarkable raconteur who always picked up the check.” Jenkins’ credo was “Type fast, get it done and go to a bar.”

At Sports Illustrated, he became a national sensation covering golf and other sports. But he still had time to write fiction. In 1972, his debut novel about football, Semi-Tough, was published. It was a look at Billy Clyde Puckett, a tough, womanizing and heavy drinking Texas-bred running back. The book became a bestseller, and in 1977, was released as a movie starring Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson and Jill Clayburgh.

Jenkins left Sports Illustrated in 1985, wrote columns for Golf Digest and Playboy and continued to write novels. Dead Solid Perfect and Baja Oklahoma were turned into made-for-TV movies and he published an autobiography His Ownself: A Semi-Memoir in 2014.

Late in his career, Jenkins was honored for more than 60 years of sports writing. In 2012, he became only the third writer named to the World Golf Hall of Fame and received the prestigious Associated Press Sports Editors’ Red Smith Award for sports journalism in 2013.

Jenkins always joked that he wanted his tombstone to read “I knew this would happen.” On March 7, Jenkins died in his native Fort Worth. He was 90. Golf — and all of sports journalism — will never be the same.

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