Dan Jenkins’ life ambition to be a sportswriter was so strong that he turned down Ben Hogan’s offer to mentor him as a professional golfer.“I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional golfer,” said Jenkins, now an octogenarian, recalling a relationship that began while he was a college golfer at TCU in the early ’50s. “I wasn’t good enough. I never worked at it. I loved gambling at it and having fun.“All I ever wanted to do was be a newspaperman.”Jenkins was working at the storied Fort Worth Press as an 18-year-old senior at Paschal High School before setting foot on the TCU campus.His career moved him to the Dallas Times-Herald, Sports Illustrated and Golf Digest.Over six decades he has become one of America’s greatest storytellers, using a striking wit as a novelist to peel back the layers of his fictional characters.His most recent work is His Ownself, a memoir of his life as a journalist and all the relationships formed, including a close one with Hogan, Fort Worth’s legendary golf champion.“He was great to me,” Jenkins said of Hogan. “He got me covering majors. If Ben Hogan hadn’t been from Fort Worth, I probably would have stayed at the Fort Worth Press.“And I’d have been happy there my whole life. One thing led to another.”If you want to know anything about Fort Worth, golf or college football, Jenkins is your man.Just be prepared to laugh a lot. What would Ben Hogan have thought of Tiger Woods? I think he was in awe of everybody today. The length that they all have, not just Tiger, but everybody else. And their putting stroke, more than anything. In his day, you didn’t expect to make every 10-foot par putt like they do now because the greens were so uneven. From city to city they were different; they were bermuda, they were bent, they were well kept, they were unkept. So it was fairways and greens in Ben’s day. You could win with shotmaking and style. Now, it’s hit it 300 yards and hit a wedge to the green, make the putt and go to the next tee. I think Hogan would have won today with today’s equipment because he had the competitive heart and the focus. Do you think Tiger will ever come back to Fort Worth? Who knows what he’s going to do. But I tell you what happens with golfers: When guys get to where they can’t win consistently or they can’t be what they used to be, they tend to get real friendly to the media. They tend to go to places they haven’t been because they find a new audience. Cary Middlecoff is my classic example: Back when he was winning three majors and a bunch of other tournaments, he never knew me by any name other than “Pal” or “Pard.” Then when he stopped winning, I became “Dan.” What will be Tiger’s legacy be? The golf writing community has been wanting him to be the greatest player to ever lived because they wanted to say they covered the greatest player to have ever lived. Just like I can say I covered Hogan and Nicklaus. I understand that. But … for some reason, they act like Tiger’s 14 are superior to Jack’s 18. And however many runners-up he has, six or seven, doesn’t equal Jack’s 19, which I think is the most astounding statistic in golf. Here’s a guy who could have won 40, for God’s sake. Jack is the greatest winner and competitor I’ve ever seen. … To me, it’s very telling that Tiger has won 14 majors and has never come from behind to win any of them. Jack came from behind to win eight of his 18 and Hogan five of his 10. If Tiger doesn’t have his game by Thursday, he doesn’t win. Tiger is absolutely the greatest putter that ever lived. I’ll give him that. What do you think of the new college playoff format? I’m terrified that somebody like Brent Musburger is going to pick the four teams. Somebody will always be left out. That’s my gripe about it. I root for the days there will be six undefeated teams and they’ll have to leave two out. There’ll be a screaming fit across the country. That will be more fun than anything else. You use a few pages of the book to make a rebuke of political correctness. The issue obviously strikes chord. It’s just ridiculous. The modern language society and the college professors, who are among the leading morons in the country, especially the liberals, are responsible for it. And why newspapers and magazines fell into the trap, I’ll never know. They wanted to make themselves feel good, I guess. They base everything on race and culture, which didn’t have anything to do with that. It had to do with someone taking the mantle of the language. Since the language is part mine, too, I resented it.
A few excerpts from His Ownself:
On Charlie Turner, Fort Worth Paschal’s legendary basketball coach: “Anyone who played for Coach Turner … will testify that he made Coach Bob Knight look like Bing Crosby playing Father O’Malley. … There were many ways in which you could suffer Coach Turner’s verbal abuse and the burning sting of his paddle. … Five licks for being seen in the front hall talking to your girlfriend between classes. ‘You better learn to guard your man the way you guard that tomato-mouth floozy who’s got you by the …’ ”
On his “bad grandmother,” Eugenia Harger: “Genie was a small, delicate woman, but she carried a big stick. It was called money. … I believe Genie was ultimately responsible for my mother inventing the migraine headache.”
On religion: “Rev. J. Frank Norris, in his thundering voice, sternly assured everyone that they were going to burn in hell for eternity, if not longer. I couldn’t help wondering why this should include me. I was only 7, and burning in hell for an eternity sounded like a rather harsh punishment for somebody who’d done nothing worse than refuse to eat liver.”
On the DFW sports landscape today: “I appreciate how exciting it is for Metroplex residents to have Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars in their midst, and even a Texas Motor Speedway for those who concede that auto racing is a sport and not a training ground for getting to Happy Hour.”
His Ownself: A Semi-Memoir
By Dan Jenkins