My relationship with Dan Jenkins goes back decades, and it is a simple one. He wrote words and I read them over and over again. I have no strained connection with him that would somehow label me as more blessed or important for knowing him. I know people I like very much who knew him, that’s all. I still read him as though he had the last dose of antivenom. Nothing more complicated than that.
He wrote about golf, which I didn’t play. He wrote about Texas, which I only visited on football, baseball, basketball or hockey road trips. But he wrote, and I read. That was the deal, and it worked great for me.
Jenkins, the longtime accepted standard for golf musing at Sports Illustrated and Golf Digest as well as the author of more than 20 books, including the iconic Semi-Tough, Baja Oklahoma, and Dead Solid Perfect, died Thursday at 89 in Fort Worth after a brief and unfair illness.
Now here’s the deal: I will not provide snippets of his writing for you. That’s lazy, cheap and diminished his actual gift—the way the sentences flow into each other as though his real goal was to write entire stories and books of the world’s funniest and most trenchant transitions ever. I will point you to his bibliography and suggest that you dive in, back to front, front to back, middle out, whatever. Attack it with the fervor of a Bob Marley completist (“Play ‘Maga Dog’! Play ‘Maga Dog’!”) and let the sentences envelop you like a hot tub at the perfect temperature.
In fact, if you’re one of the generation that regards reading with the same affection as open sores, start with Jenkins anyway. Accept that the subject matter might not be your idea of fun, or that some of his characters could make your brain grind, and just let the words do their languid magic. I didn’t regard what he wrote he as a primer on the life you should lead, because I never thought that’s what he was trying to do. I read him because he could sing the damned language better than anyone else of his time.
I don’t know if he was a writer for his time or whether he spanned the ages. I don’t know if he transcended social groups. I don’t know if he is the stuff of hundred-years-from-now time capsules. I don’t care. I know that there are writers now of every stripe who do things that enrapture me nearly as much as he did. The difference is that he was a linguistic craftsman with a musician’s ear, so good that he could write about something I never cared about but make we want to read about it anyway. I put it to you that such a gift is white-rhino rare.
And if Jenkins can’t do that for you, find someone who can do that now. They’re out there and they stick out like Antonio Brown’s mustache. (Sorry, I’m not listing my current favorites for you; that list is relatively exhaustive, and you have to fall in love your own way.) If you find your Jenkins, just remember that there is a direct line between him and your favorite, namely this: They could both write like a sumbitch.
Okay, I gave you one word of Jenkins. After this, you’re OYO.
Ray Ratto is currently binge-reading and cannot be disturbed.