HIS OWNSELF: a Semi-Memoir by Dan Jenkins

by Dan M | Posted on Sunday, April 20th, 2014


By Tom Ward

Over the past few years I’ve enjoyed  brief encounters with the renowned sportswriter Dan Jenkins. I was first introduced to Dan by my friend, the late actor, Norman Alden.
Growing up I always looked forward to his stories in Sports Illustrated and later on in Golf Digest. I’ve read a few of his books some of which were made into movies like Semi-Tough, Dead Solid Perfect and Baja Oklahoma. So I was excited to get a copy of his newest book HIS OWNSELF: a Semi-Memoir.
Prior to reading this book I didn’t know much about Jenkins the man. In it he talks about his upbringing in Ft. Worth and all the influences that helped shape his life.
“One of the best things that ever happened to me was coming from a broken home. Having nothing but warm memories of being raised in a home by a self-sacrificing grandmother and granddad-on his dads side.
Bud Jenkins (his father) may have flunked child-rearing courses, but I’d always be grateful to him for introducing me to college football and pro golf, the two sports that continue to arouse my passion and have given me so much to write about.” said Jenkins.
Also, he reflects back to his first job at the Ft. Worth Press working along all –time journalistic greats like Blackie Sherrod and Bud Shrake; to the glory days of Sports Illustrated where he worked for 24 years. He was one of the handful of writers to help establish SI as the most important sports magazine ever. Dan was instrumental in refocusing the magazine’s college football coverage and covered the game’s greatest players and coaches.
Jenkins is considered one of the greatest golf writers of all time. He’s covered every Masters, U.S. Open, PGA, and British Open for the past fifty years, taking us behind the scenes to capture the drama-as well as the humor –of these tournaments bringing us up close and personal with the likes of Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods.
The book touches on his friendships and rounds played with Ben Hogan, to the stories swapped with New York’s elite, and to the numerous corporate expense accounts abused along the way.
Dan lets loose on his experiences in journalism, sports, and showbiz. It’s an honest, one –of-a kind look at politics, hypocrites, political correctness, the past, the present, Hollywood, money, and athletes making this a sports fan’s dream book.
HIS OWNSELF is a touching, laugh-out-loud tribute to the romanticism of old time sportswriting-and the glory days of sports straight from the man who was there.
Being a golf professional I really enjoyed the chapters on golf, especially when he talked about his relationship with the legendary Ben Hogan. One tale in particular was the time Hogan asked him to play an exhibition with him at Colonial in front of 3,000 paying customers. What should have been a crowning moment for the self described  golf nut turned out to be a nightmare for Jenkins. Reading it I felt his pain and it was truly a cringe worthy moment any golfer can relate to.
Here’s an short excerpt from that exchange in the book:
Ben had been asked to play an exhibition at Colonial for the benefit of the United States Olympic Fund. The ’56 Summer Olympics were coming up in Melbourne, Australia. He called me at the paper to say he wanted me in the foursome with him and his brother Royal Hogan, and Ray Gafford, a local pro at Ridglea Country Club. I said,” There has to be somebody better than me, Ben.” He said,” No, you’re who I want.”
I don’t know how I hit a good drive on No. 1 a par 5 of 565 yards. What came next was like a scene from a horror film. I cold-topped my 3-wood second. I cold-topped the 3 wood again. Then I cold-topped a 5-iron that skittered along the ground for 50 yards.  At that moment I wanted to dig a hole in the fairway and disappear, but as I headed to my ball I realized Hogan was walking along beside me.
Ben said, “You can probably swing faster if you try hard enough.”
It was the best golf tip anyone ever gave me in a moment of crisis. I was swinging so fast, I must have looked like I was swatting a swarm of mosquitoes.
After the round I had a drink with Ben and Marvin Leonard in the grill. We talked golf in general for awhile, and then I was exchanging a nod with someone in the room. I heard Ben saying, “he has the length, you see- and he can putt.” He was talking to Mr. Leonard but I realized he was talking about my golf game. Now he turned to me. “Between the driver and the putter, your game can use some help.” I said, ”You won’t get an argument here.” With a serious look, he said, “If you will work with me three days a week for the next three months-and do everything I tell you to do-you can become good enough to compete in the National Amateur.”
An offer of free lessons from Ben Hogan? That’s what I was hearing?
Stumbling and stammering, I said,         “Ben, that’s… that’s really flattering…and I appreciate the offer… but I’m not that serious a golfer..I mean I love the game… but all I want to be is a good sportswriter.” Ben looked at me like I’d committed treason. He held that cold stare on me for what seemed like a week. I wasn’t sure whether to expect a knife wound or a bullet in the forehead. Finally, he relaxed, sat back, and said, “Well..keep working at it.”
Can you imagine turning down an offer from the great Ben Hogan to help improve your golf game? Most of us would have jumped at the chance to have a one on one session learning from one of the all time greats of the game. However, to his credit I think Jenkins believed that his golf skills weren’t going to pay the bills and because he already knew the career path he wanted to follow as a sportswriter.
Dan was there at the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills C.C. in Denver to witness a changing of the guard in the world of professional golf. Having lunch with his fellow golf writing pal Bob Drum when Arnold Palmer walked by on his way to the 4th round.  Palmer was 7 shots behind at the time and nobody had ever come back that far behind to with the U.S. Open with 18 holes to play.
Drum told Palmer he had no chance and Arnie stormed off in a huff. Well, Palmer drove the green on the first hole a par 4 of 346 yards and shot a 65 to stage an improbable win. To this day he says in the book it remains the most incredible last day of major he ever covered.
“You had a 30 year old Arnold Palmer, the current king. A 48 year Ben Hogan, the past king, and a 20 year old Jack Nicklaus, a future king. That afternoon would provide a clash of eras involving three of the greatest names golf would ever know.”
Jenkins other passion was college football. Players like “Slingin” Sammy Baugh. Davey (Slingshot) O’Brien. ‘Dazzling’ Doak Walker the Mustangs Miracle Man,” and Bobby Layne “The Blond Bomber” those four were Dan’s boyhood Football Heroes growing up and had a huge impact with him wanting to become a sportswriter. To him they were the “Mount Rushmore of Texas football.”
He talks about how thrilling it was to get to know those gentleman after they hung up their game threads.
There are many poignant moments scattered throughout the book. Like back in 1972, when he was on a book tour for Semi-Tough and happened to be back home in Ft. Worth at the house where he grew up, sitting at the kitchen table with the three women who’d meant the most to him in his life-June, Mimmie, and sister. There was a phone call from his editor in New York telling him that his novel was coming on the New York Times best-seller list. His  victory lap consisted of him walking outside and sitting in the swing on his grandmothers front porch. Lighting a cigarette and thinking about all the people who helped raise him and encouraged his interest in sports.
He does a great job chronicling his life as a sportswriter. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his account of his life and the journey he took traveling around the globe over the decades giving us the fan an in depth look behind the scenes of what was really going on with some of the greatest high profile personalities from the world of sports and entertainment.
Tom Ward can be reached at www.teetimewithtom.com


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