One Hall of a Writer
By Stephanie Wei under General

Dan Jenkins: first living writer to be inducted into the WGHOF

Legendary journalist and author Dan Jenkins will (finally) be inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame as part of the class of 2012, along with four-time major champion Phil Mickelson and LPGA great Hollis Stacy.

If you’ve read any of Jenkins’ articles, books, columns, etc., and in these days, if you follow him on Twitter — well, he talks and someone types what he’s saying and presses “tweet,” but minor details — then you know his amazing command of prose is accompanied by wit and candor.

The official ceremony will take place at the Induction Ceremony on May 7, 2012, at World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Florida. The 82-year-old Jenkins will become the sixth member of the media to be admitted in the HOF, but he’ll be the first to accept the honor in the flesh.

The list of his achievements and accolades would take up about 500 words, but let’s just say he’s an icon and arguably the most celebrated living sportswriter (and considered one of the greatest American sportswriters of all time).  Obviously, Jenkins’ heyday was before my time, but lucky for all of us, he still attends every major and graces us with his quips and observations via Twitter.

I’ll never forget the first time I (officially) met Mr. Jenkins — the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. I was pretty nervous initially — which quickly diminished — but I was delighted he had agreed to sit down to chat for a Q&A for the Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Jenkins imparted words of encouragement (which meant a lot to me and he has no idea how much, so this isn’t the space to share it ), along with some valuable pieces of advice. From my original post in August 2010 (not the Q&A — the deleted scenes, if you will):

*First, meet his daughter, Sally (pictured above). Then, he encouraged me to keep pushing through the industry (*update: he’d been clued in on some of the obstacles and animosity I’ve dealt with by several of my supportive colleagues) and hoped I continued to cover golf. He said I needed to do two things: Listen to those who have been doing this for a long time (and know what they’re doing — in other words, be very discriminatory), and read — and not just his books.

Well, I did read one of his books (and plan to read others — any suggestions??), Dead Solid Perfect, chronicling life on tour in 1974. Funny thing is, things haven’t changed too much! Well, with the exception of much larger purses, etc. I joked if you added 5 or 6 zeros to the figures in the novel, it could almost be passed off as a modern day account.

At 82 — sixty years since covering his first of 210 or 211 majors — he hasn’t lost his touch. On Wednesday PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, WGHOF Chief Operating Officer Jack Peter and Jenkins held a teleconference Wednesday announcing Jenkins as part of the Hall’s class of 2012, under the Hall’s “Lifetime Achievement” category. According to the AP’s Doug Ferguson, he’d never heard the commish laugh so much during a conference call.

Here are some excerpts from today’s tele-presser:

*Q.  Any Western Union clips?
DAN JENKINS:  Right, yeah.  I do go back that far, actually.  I missed Postal Telegraph, but I was around for Western Union.  They used to garble your stories pretty bad.  Somebody told me one time they only improved them, really.  That may or may not be true.  But I do go back that far.

I went through the age of faxing, and now I’m in the computer age, and now I’m in the tweeting age.  So I’ve covered a broad spectrum of ways to transmit thoughts and people want to hear or are outraged to hear at some times.  Even though I was making a stab at humor, I don’t think I ever wrote a line I didn’t believe.

Q.  Where did you get your sense of humor?
DAN JENKINS:  Well, when you grow up in Texas and you don’t like sports, they drown you, that’s number one.  If you’ve ever gambled at golf, which all of us did as kids and college and all of that, your sense of humor has to go with it because you get beat so often.  It just came natural.

I understand golf is a religion to a lot of people.  Never really a religion to me, but a great sports event.  Any great sports event required a sense of humor.  It just came natural.  I don’t try to be funny, but sometimes I think that way.

I’ve always told young people who asked me about sports writing and golf writing and stuff, when something great happens, like when an Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods or Ben Hogan happens, you don’t have to be funny, you just have to be accurate.

When you have to be funny is when you’re on deadline, and somebody like Jack creeps up on you.  That’s when you have to tap dance because it doesn’t make any sense.  We have more and more of that these days, don’t we?

*Q.  From a generation of guys who either one of the reasons a lot of us got into sports writing, and you were one of the three or four guys that kind of steered me in that direction.  I wanted to ask you, you talk a lot about how there was a kinder, gentler day on the PGA TOUR when the players hung out with each other and the players and media even hung out with each other, restaurants, locker room, the bar.  There was more personal contact.  I’m just wondering was there a figure in golf, maybe not necessarily a player, but was there a figure in golf who you most enjoyed sitting down and eating breakfast with and having a drink with at the Augusta National clubhouse or the lodge at Pebble Beach?  Who did you enjoy keeping company with?
DAN JENKINS:  You could not help but enjoy any of the moments or times you spent around Jimmy Demaret or Sam Sneed or Lee Trevino or even Dave Moeller who had a sense of humor and shared it with you.  All of those guys were a sports writer’s dream.  It was a time that they needed us in print as much as we needed them.  Those days are gone because of the modern age, and electricity which I still don’t understand.  We’re not as necessary anymore as we used to be.  But that’s okay.  As long as they have television and internet it’s going to keep on going and changing, and we change with it.

So it’s still out there, and golf tournaments are still an awful lot of fun.  You know, there is no one person that can make or break a golf tournament.  The spectacle of the tournament itself is always the real seller, and I found out the hard way one time.

Years ago at Colonial in 1954, Ben Hogan was coming off his Triple Crown in ’53.  He was the co-leader after 36 holes at Colonial.  And he had to withdraw because of a shoulder injury.  So everybody on the tournament committee was moaning and groaning and practically in tears because on Saturday and Sunday they said there weren’t going to be any people there.  Well, they only broke the tournament record for spectators, even though Ben wasn’t there. That’s when it dawned on me that the spectacle of the tournament itself is always going to be the biggest part of the game, and that’s good.  That’s what keeps it going.

I tried not to draw too much blood.  I tried to rave about all the heroes of the game, and they deserved it, and they earned it.  But I have been to over 200 majors. I’m going to keep on doing it.  I don’t know who is in second place, but they’re way back there on the track.

*Q.  The best single round of golf you ever saw, the best tournament you ever saw, and the best story you ever wrote?

DAN JENKINS:  The most talked about and the most electrifying at its time was Arnold Palmer at Cherry Hills in the U.S. Open of 1960, when I think I was the first guy that noticed that there was a confluence of three eras of golf that all came together that afternoon.  It was the current king, Arnold Palmer, the past King Ben Hogan, and the future King, Jack Nicklaus who was yet an amateur.  The three of them battled it out in the last 18.

I’d never experienced even as a good old, cynical writer, as much excitement as all of us felt that afternoon following that action.  Arnold Palmer winning it with a 6 under, 65 in the last round, which passed 14 players and came from seven strokes back, it was unbelievable.

There have been so many great moments in golf that you even forget some of them.  But that one still stands out.  When people say, “What was the greatest day?”  I had a lot of great days with Ben Hogan.  My first Open that I covered was the ’51 Open at Oakland Hills, and Ben shot that 67 in the last round, which was about as good a round of golf on the most difficult golf course in the world.

Oakland Hills set up for that Open more like a penitentiary than a golf course.  The joke was you had to walk sideways down the fairways to keep the rough from snagging your trousers.

But Trent Jones put so many bunkers in the middle of the fairways and the greens were so fast.  There was a moment when Ben went up to Robert Trent Jones’ wife and said if your husband didn’t play this golf course for a living, you’d be standing in a bread line.  He wasn’t kidding.  It was tough.

Those two days are right in there.  And I think Jack Nicklaus winning his sixth Masters in 1986.  It’s awful hard to avoid that.  But there have been so many great tournaments that I’ve been privileged to see and people paid me to go watch, that I’m awfully grateful for it, and I’m so happy that I chose the profession I did.


You can read the full transcript here.

Congrats, Mr. Jenkins. /slow clap into standing ovation