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."
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.