Someone once said of Arnold Palmer that he didn’t play our game, we played his.
That’s the way a lot of writers feel about Dan Jenkins, who died last month at age ninety. Of the 500 or so mourners at his memorial service at a limestone cathedral in Fort Worth, I counted at least a dozen professional scribblers. Would have been thirteen, but Dan’s daughter, Sally, an award-winning columnist for the Washington Post, took ill, and a DH had to read her tribute to her dad.
Dan will be remembered as the funniest ever writer on golf and possibly the most truthful. The few guys who tried to imitate him sounded like night club comics, all set-up and punchline. They whiffed because the truth part was more important to Jenkins; the humor was a tool, like a can opener, used to pry out the really important stuff. “Never sell out a fact for a gag,” he said.
Or, as his daughter wrote a couple of years ago: “If readers open a book and smell honesty, they’ll keep reading, [But] if they open a book and smell bulls*it…”
Yes, Dan’s prose cracked up readers from George H. W. to my brother-in-law who otherwise doesn’t read, but not everyone got the joke. As a string quartet played Beethoven in a minor key, I recalled Jenkins on Greg Norman. “He looks like the guy they always send after James Bond,” Dan wrote. Another time, he referred to the geometrically-patterned, brightly-colored cloth covering the Shark’s torso as “your three worst golf shirts sewn together.”
Norman felt so aggrieved at these and other salvos that at a PGA tour players-only meeting the Aussie proposed that the no one speak to Jenkins from then on, an idea that went nowhere. Not talk to Jenkins? That would be like pleading the Fifth at confession. Or silent karaoke. Pointless, in other words. People everywhere wanted to hear Dan’s opinions and his mordant wit.
Except Tiger Woods, who famously refused to be interviewed by the great man. “We have nothing to gain,” said Team Tiger. Although that’s hardly true—we can recall a time when Eldrick could have used a powerful friend in the media—it may have been a good decision. Because the socially awkward college drop-out from Southern California would not have been able to keep up with the witty gentleman from Paschal High and TCU.
“Jenkins compares everybody to Hogan and everybody comes up short,” another famous golfer complained to me, a sentiment Dan might have agreed with to some degree. The frosty Ben Hogan and the smart aleck writer for the Fort Worth Press played about forty rounds together. They were an odd couple, but somehow perfectly matched, like salt and pepper.
My first meeting with His Ownself (his own nickname for himself) occurred in 1992 in downtown Cow Town and required four hours, ten cups of decaf, five glasses of J & B and water (heavy on the water) and half a pack of Winston cigarettes.
“F*ck dinner,” Dan said, although we were in a restaurant, Juanita’s, owned by his wife, the Lovely June. Budweiser came out of my nose.
I’d forgotten that Jenkins was merely quoting himself. “F dinner” is step five in the Ten Stages of Drunkenness, the widely quoted and much-loved guide you’ll find on page 115 of Dan’s novel Baja Oklahoma. You remember: “Witty and Charming” is stage one and “Bulletproof” is the finale.
“He was a tall tree in the forest of men,” said Dr. Ted Kitchens, our host at Christ Chapel Bible Church.
Someone read Psalm 100. Someone sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
“I grew up reading Dan Jenkins. It shaped my life,” said Jerry Tarde, Editor-in-Chief at Golf Digest.
“I was Dan’s editor. It was a 23-year collaboration. It didn’t feel like a job,” said Michael O’Malley, GD’s Executive Editor. “He’d make you think and laugh at the same time.”
We all filed out to the recorded voice of Vera Lynn, a toothy British pop singer singing “We’ll Meet Again,” a World War II anthem. There was Jaime Diaz, who you know if you watch The Golf Channel. Lance Barrow, the TV producer you know if you’ve ever watched golf or the Super Bowl on CBS. Scott Sayers, Ben Crenshaw’s agent. Some muckety-muck from Augusta National. Author Jim Moriarty. Guy Yocom, the Golf Digest stalwart.
Not there were Jenkins pals Bud Shrake, who is deceased, and Jerre Todd, who’s ill. And Dan. All three writer/humorists were very smart, very kind, and great company
We’ll meet again, says Ms. Lynn. I hope so.