By Gerry Ahern
No one has brought wit and wisdom to sports writing quite like Dan Jenkins.
The native Texan began by chronicling the swinging exploits of fellow Fort Worthian Ben Hogan in the 50’s. He made a name detailing great green battles between Nicklaus and Palmer for Sports Illustrated in the 60’s. He became a force of nature by penning the books “Semi-Tough” and “Dead Solid Perfect” in the 70’s.
He’s still teeing it up, covering more than 200 golf majors over the past six decades.
In 2013, at age 83, Jenkins is the Red Smith Award winner.
“I’m delighted, I’m flattered and frankly I’m overwhelmed because I’m such a fan of most of the people who are in there and have known a great many of them,” Jenkins said. “I even knew Red pretty well.
“I used to sit next to him at Super Bowls and NFL games and was a great admirer of his. I used to quote stuff to him, his stuff. He was such a wonderful, gentle, terrific guy and helpful to any other writer, any young guy who read him and understood his work.”
The Red Smith Award is just the latest honor for the inimitable Jenkins, who got his start in newspapers at the Fort Worth Press and Dallas Times-Herald. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012 and won the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing last year. The PGA gave him its Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award in 1995 and he entered the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 1996.
But the Red Smith Award is special, Jenkins said. The thought of being enshrined alongside Smith, Blackie Sherrod and Furman Bisher brought out emotions.
“I’ve got a few plaques hanging on my wall, but I’ve never been as thrilled about any award as I am about this one,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins’ all-encompassing knowledge of golf and his ability to deliver the perfect quip or cutting comment – verbally, in print or on Twitter — are the stuff of legend.
Some memorable Jenkins-isms:
(From his book “Baja Oklahoma,” 10 Stages of Drunkenness)
1. Witty and Charming
2. Rich and Powerful
5. Screw Dinner
7. Crank Up the Enola Gay
8. Witty and Charming, Part II
(From the 2011 British Open)
"Miguel Angel Jimenez's warm-up routine remains so suggestive that spectators are trying to stick dollar bills in his belt.”
(From my interview with him)
“These are supposed to be fun and games as Red himself always said. I love to try and keep people honest. We have enough God-like creatures running around in Sports nowadays that someone has to try and keep their feet on the ground.
“I just say what I think and things come to me. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s not. I hate to draw blood but sometimes I do.”
Jenkins will be feted at a luncheon during APSE’s Summer Conference in Detroit on June 28. He becomes the 33rd winner of the Red Smith Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to sports journalism.
Jenkins’ daughter, Sally Jenkins, is a celebrated sports columnist at the Washington Post. She has been recognized multiple times by APSE for her outstanding work. Now her father has received the organization's highest honor.
The APSE executive committee expanded voting for the Red Smith Award in 2012, opening it up to national officers, active members with at least 10 years service and alumni members who belonged to APSE for at least 15 years. Past presidents and Red Smith Award winners retained their votes. Each news organization is limited to one vote, with an exception granted to those outlets that have past presidents and Red Smith Award winners.
Twelve sports journalists received nominations for the 2013 Red Smith Award. The five top vote-getters behind Jenkins (in alphabetical order) are Henry Freeman, Leigh Montville, Bob Ryan, Fred Turner and George Vecsey. In accordance with APSE rules, they will automatically be on the ballot for 2014.
But 2013 belongs to Jenkins, who signed off with some seriously sage advice for today’s sports journalists.
“You don’t need to be funny if you’re covering an event that overwhelms you with its drama and excitement.” he said. “When you have to be funny is when it’s a bore. That’s when you have to tapdance.”
Few writers, if any, have stepped with such grace.