Dan Jenkins has made a career out of creating superlatives to describe the greatness of Hogan, Nelson, Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson and Mickelson.
He’s made himself a legend because he’s done it perhaps better than anyone else. The admiration of his peers can be seen in the superlatives they have created for him.
In a speech at the 2005 U.S. Open, now Golf World editor-in-chief Jaime Diaz did it better than most. “What makes Jenkins Jenkins?” Diaz asked. “The simple answer is that he has more talent than the other guys, just like Hogan and Nicklaus and Woods.”
"There aren't many writers in there, It's a small group, and I'm pleased to be a part of it. I'd follow Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson anywhere (On his induction to the World golf Hall of Fame)."
The casual fan is probably more familiar with those legendary names. But anyone who has read a word about golf since the 1950s has been touched by the influence of Jenkins. His honest, sometimes biting, often hilarious prose changed the way the game is reported.
Jenkins was born in 1929 in Fort Worth, Texas, and while he has chased pin flags all over the world, his heart never left. As an undergrad at TCU in 1947, Jenkins began writing sports at The Fort Worth Press newspaper. Fate smiled on Jenkins, because two young players from Fort Worth were about to change the game. Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson emerged as the dominant players of their generation, and Jenkins rose to meet their greatness.
He covered his first major championship at the 1951 U.S. Open. Hogan did battle with a brutal Oakland Hills course and grabbed the title. Sixty-one years later when it was announced that Jenkins would be part of the World Golf Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012, he said Hogan’s final-round 67 remains one of the greatest he had ever seen.
He put that performance along with Jack Nicklaus winning his sixth Masters at age 46 and the 1960 U.S. Open won by Arnold Palmer at Cherry Hills as the three best he has ever seen.
And Jenkins would know. At 82 years old, the 2012 Masters was the 211th major championship he covered. No other journalist is close.
While Jenkins was chronicling the exploits of Hogan and Nelson, he was discovered by Sports Illustrated. The magazine introduced Jenkins’ writing to a national audience, and once again, he made the most of his opportunity. As Palmer and then Nicklaus took golf to heights previously unseen, Jenkins brought life and vigor to their triumphs and defeats.
When Palmer lost at the 1961 Masters, Jenkins displayed his tough-but-truthful style: “Gary Player of South Africa is the Masters champion because Arnold Palmer was in too big a hurry to win it again.”
“There’s no other way to say it. The 18th hole at Augusta National might as well have been a slab of meat, the way Palmer butchered it.”
In 1985, Jenkins moved from Sports Illustrated to Golf Digest and has remained there since. But over the years his writing was not contained to magazines. Or just golf, for that matter. While at Sports Illustrated, Jenkins began writing fiction and non-fiction books, often about his other love: football.
In 1972, Jenkins wrote “Semi-Tough,” a best-selling novel about professional football viewed through the lens of his beloved Fort Worth. His most well-known golf books are “Dead Solid Perfect” and “The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate.” In total, he has written 20 books and sold millions of copies.
His career has spanned the typewriter to Twitter. Jenkins won his first award in the Golf Writers Association of America’s annual writing contest in 1957 while working for The Fort Worth Press. In 2011, he earned his ninth career award. This time, he was honored in the Internet category.
It should be no surprise, then, that Jenkins is now part of the small but decorated group of media members in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“There aren’t many writers in there,” he said. “It’s a small group, and I’m pleased to be a part of it. I’d follow Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson anywhere.”