The Week Grip — Remembering Dan Jenkins

Robbie Vogel
5 min readMar 8, 2019

Welcome to the eleventh installment of the Week Grip. Click here for earlier posts, and follow along throughout 2019.

One of my great friends has a theory on the afterlife. It’s one I happen to subscribe to as well, and it states that your first stop when the great greenskeeper in the sky calls your name — yes, even before you step onto the first tee on Sunday at Augusta National with a 12-shot lead and a suspiciously helping breeze — is at a giant, comfortable sofa.

On that sofa sits everyone you loved throughout the course of your life: family members, close friends, golf buddies, work cronies (the good ones) — the people who gave you joy and who felt joy in your presence. In front of that sofa sits a giant TV with ultra high-def resolution and the latest in surround-sound speaker technology.

And in the middle of that sofa sits you, remote control in hand, with the power to queue up every moment in your life to be enjoyed (and skewered) once again by the assembled crew. Every joyful wedding reception, every glorious sports highlight, every drunken shenanigan, every deserved awards ceremony — the best parts of your life, replayed and re-experienced with the people who made them so special.

Dan Jenkins, the legendary author, Texan, sports fan, and golf scribe, passed away last night at the age of 89, and if my friend’s theory on the afterlife is true, Jenkins is on about his 5th scotch-and-water on that giant sofa, and hasn’t even reached the era of Sansabelts and oversized collars.

Jenkins inside the new Masters press “tent” in 2017. Source

“All I ever wanted to do was be a newspaperman.” It’s a sentence as dated as Jenkins’s references to Ben Hogan, and evokes similar nostalgia for the days of persimmon drivers and sepia-toned television sets. And that sentence, or one very much akin to it, was uttered time and again by Jenkins, who was able for the final 70 of his 89 years to call himself a newspaperman, a sportswriter, an author, a screenwriter, or whatever moniker he saw fit to wear at the time.

Tom Callahan’s tribute above paints a thorough portrait of Jenkins’s life, from his early childhood in Fort Worth copying sports articles from the newspaper onto an old typewriter found in his grandmother’s closet, all the way up through his tour inside the palatial press building at his 68th and final Masters tournament in 2017.

In between, Jenkins discovered and honed a unique narrative style. He combined keen observational skills and an impossibly sharp wit to produce enviable work, the kind of stuff a master stand-up comedian would be proud to call his own. He treated the English language like Seve surveying a ticklish pitch shot — always willing and able to pull off the unexpected. A sampling of his work can be found here, and it would be easy to get lost for hours in the millions of words he produced:

He was quick, frequently self-deprecating, more often other-folks-deprecating, and able to capture more in a sentence’s worth of dry humor than others in similar spots would have mined in five paragraphs of over-explanation. To wit:

Jenkins on playing with “41,” or President George H.W. Bush. Bush let him keep the club.

Most of the golf-related gold he produced over his career belongs more to the era in which it was written than to the game at large, as it reflected on the tournaments of the day. But his novels, specifically Dead Solid Perfect, remain just as bright, incisive, and side-splitting now as ever.

The jokes flow from the very first page, before even the prose.

I first read Dead Solid Perfect around the age of 18, and immediately knew Jenkins would become a staple of my sports-reading life. At various times during my reading, fits of laughter sent tears streaming from my eyes, and bouts of nerves sent sweat seeping through my palms. It is an absolute must-read for fans of golf, sports, comedy, bad breaks, and redemption arcs.

His writing was like nothing I had ever read — he structured sentences and ideas so uniquely when they could have been straightforward, and many sentences felt like inside jokes to be unlocked by knowledgeable readers. These came with an implied wink and nudge, remaining opaque to the non golf fan while assuring the golf-crazed reader that he and the author are on the same page, about three chapters ahead of everyone else.

At the risk of violating some intellectual property rights I’ll stop, but even in the first two pages, you’re hooked.

“And the minute the ball started for that flagstick I knew the war was over and it was time to call in the boats and piss on the admiral.”

The characters in all of Jenkins’s novels, and particularly this one, were lively, devious, and more than a little crazy, all of which made them seem more true to life than if the book was nonfiction. After all, according to Jenkins in the book’s foreword:

“You can say things in fiction that you can’t say in journalism, of course. Get closer to the truth.”

From Callahan’s tribute linked above, it’s clear that Dan Jenkins cherished the personal connections he made through the game of golf, and the craft of sportswriting, even more than any piece he published or accolade he received. He also felt an enormous sense of pride for his three children and his wife of 60 years, a pride which was extremely well-deserved.

Let’s say my friend’s theory on the afterlife is true, and that couch-and-TV setup really exists just beyond the pearly gates of whatever personal Heaven you happen to believe in. If that’s the case, then I’m willing to bet the gates in Dan’s version of Heaven look a lot like those opening onto Magnolia Lane. And I’d also put good money on Dan Jenkins sitting right now surrounded by family, friends, Palmer, admirers, coworkers, and Hogan, along with an industrial-sized bottle of scotch, remembering and reliving a life well-lived, well-played, and well-written.



Robbie Vogel

Bought a hat once. Did not receive a free bowl of soup with it.