Author Interviews
11:26 am
Sat March 1, 2014

If Anyone Can Make Golf Exciting, It'd Be Dan Jenkins

Originally published on Sat March 1, 2014 8:03 am

Dan Jenkins has covered sporting events around the world, from golf to football to skiing, from Pebble Beach to Green Bay to Gstaad, in pungent prose with a Texas kick — and in the process, he's become more famous than a lot of the athletes he was writing about.

Jenkins was part of a legendary staff at the Fort Worth Press, then became one of the founding fathers of Sports Illustrated. His novels Semi-Tough and Dead Solid Perfect — both of which became movies — are considered profane classics. And at the age of 84, Dan Jenkins is still writing: a monthly column for Golf Digest, and tweeting between putts. His latest book is what he calls a "semi-memoir," His Ownself. Jenkins tells NPR's Scott Simon that while a lot of the book is set in bars, he himself tried to stay sober-ish. "I acted like I was drinking a lot, but always had a coffee on the side, because I wanted to be a wide-awake drunk. I drank to make other people interesting."


Interview Highlights

On his beginnings as a journalist

My aunt got me interested in journalism — she found an old typewriter, had it worked over, put it on the dining room table, gave me a stack of paper and said, play like you're a writer. So I started copying stories out of the local paper, the Star-Telegram or the Fort Worth Press, and pretending I wrote them. And then one day I started re-writing them. And that's when I knew I was going to be a writer.

On choosing the greatest golf champion: Ben Hogan or Jack Nicklaus?

I'd go with Hogan, because he was a better shot-maker. Even Jack said he was a better shot-maker. But Jack was a great winner. People ask me this all the time about athletes from different eras — it all comes down to the athlete's heart, and you don't know how much heart is in somebody. But the great ones all had a great athletic heart, therefore they compete in any era. If you gave Ben or even Jack now the technology they have today, they'd do just fine. They'd still be winning.

On whether golf is boring

It can be — it can be incredibly boring. It's incredibly boring for me sometimes! But having played the game all my life, and having played the game reasonably well, I understand the drama, the hidden drama in it — and I know most of the drama is taking place inside the person, and inside their own mind. Because if you play golf, the greatest enemy is yourself. I mean, you've got 14 clubs, you've got wind, sand, water, trees — all those enemies, but your main enemy is yourself.

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Dan Jenkins is a bigger name than many of the famous sports figures that he wrote about as he covered events around the world, from golf to football to skiing, from Pebble Beach to Green Bay to Gstaad, in pungent prose with a Texas kick.

He was part of a legendary staff at the Fort Worth Press, then became one of the founding fathers of Sports Illustrated. His novels, "Semi-Tough" and "Dead Solid Perfect," are considered profane classics, which got made into movies, and made Dan Jenkins a celebrity in Manhattan watering holes.

At the age of 84, Dan Jenkins is still writing a monthly column for Golf Digest and a Twitter stream. He's now written his memoir, "His Ownself: A Semi-Memoir." Dan Jenkins joins us from Dallas. Thanks so much for being with us.

DAN JENKINS: My pleasure, Scott.

SIMON: A strange way to begin an interview , but it's how you begin the book: What makes a really great bar?

JENKINS: A really great bar is one where the bartender knows you, and there's room for your friends, and the music is something you've heard before, it's not something - it's not noise. It usually has a melody. And in the old days you could smoke and drink and not be bothered. And you got to say when closing time was.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Yeah. I noticed a significant portion of this book seems to be set in conversations that occurred in bars. But I don't know as you were drinking a lot.

JENKINS: No, I never drank that much. I acted like l was drinking, but I always had a coffee on the side because I wanted to be a wide-awake drunk. I drank to make other people interesting.

SIMON: This'll be hard for a lot of people to hear, but could you tell us about your appallingly happy childhood in Fort Worth?

JENKINS: You know, I was raised by a middle-class family. My grandmother and my grandfather raised me. My mother was busy working, and my dad had taken a powder to California. And I had a very happy childhood, I'm pleased to say. And my aunt got me interested in journalism. She found an old typewriter, had it worked over and put it on the dining room table and gave me a stack of paper and said play like you're a writer.

So I started copying stories out of the local paper, the Star Telegraph or the Fort Worth Press, and pretending I wrote them. And then one day I started rewriting them. That's when I knew I was going to be a writer.

SIMON: So let's say there's a three-round playoff between Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus for greatest golfer of all time. You'd go with...?

JENKINS: I'd go with Hogan because he was a better shot-maker. Even Jack said Ben was a better shot-maker. But Jack was a great winner. People ask me this all the time about athletes of different eras. It all comes down to the athlete's heart. And you don't know that - how much heart is in somebody. But the great ones all had a great athletic heart. Therefore they could compete in any era.

If you gave Ben, or even Jack now, the technology they have today, they'd do just fine. They'd still be winning.

SIMON: You know, Mr. Jenkins, a lot of people find golf boring.

JENKINS: Well, it can be. It can be incredibly boring. It's incredibly boring for me sometimes. But having played the game all my life and having played the game reasonably well, I understand the drama, the hidden drama in it, and I know that most of the drama is taking place inside the person and inside their own mind because if you play golf, your greatest enemy is yourself.

I mean, you've got 14 clubs. You've got wind, sand, water, trees, all those enemies, but your main enemy is yourself.

SIMON: Mr. Jenkins, you and your wife June have been married...

JENKINS: Fifty-four years.

SIMON: Yeah. What's the secret?

JENKINS: Well first of all, we're in love. And she knew what she was getting into when she married me because she knew it was going to be a life on the road a lot. And I took her with me as much as I could. If I'd left her at home, we'd probably have been divorced. It takes a while to work it out.

SIMON: Yeah, well it sounds like you really did, though.

JENKINS: I did. I scored good. She's my secret weapon, June Jenkins.

SIMON: Dan Jenkins, who's now written "His Ownself: A Semi-Memoir." Thanks so much for speaking with us, Mr. Jenkins.

JENKINS: My pleasure, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.