A must-read on golf’s majors

You don’t see many sports books recommended in this space, and there’s good reason for it. An easy 90 percent of them probably aren’t worth plucking off even the remainder stacks.

That is not the case with the book in discussion today. I’ve always enjoyed writing about golf more than playing it. Now comes “Jenkins at the Majors,” a collection of the deadline stylings of Dan Jenkins, the preeminent golf writer of our time — or anyone’s time — and the realization that I can enjoy reading about it more than playing it, too.

The British Open, which begins today at Turnberry in Ayrshire, Scotland, is Jenkins’ 201st major. “Jenkins at the Majors” culls the best of his work from his first 197. More than half of those pieces, he points out, were written on manual typewriters.

That’s why it’s so impressive that Jenkins maintains the same crispness, the same sharp edge, start to finish. Shoot, the man even has become a virtuoso twitterer (tweeter?) if there is such a thing.

If reporting from the post-election uprising in Iran showed the first legitimate news use of twitter, Dan Jenkins’ tweets from golf majors shows the second. Follow his tweets at twitter.com/danjenkinsgd and you’ll find such 140-character nuggets as . . .

Sandy Lyle says he’s sorry for suggesting that Monty cheated years ago. Then he suggested that Monty cheated years ago.

Just ran into Monty, who was taking an illegal drop on his way to the range.

Sir Laurence Olivier? Of course. Sir Nick Faldo? Are you kidding me?

Padraig Harrington is redoing his swing after winning three majors. Well, why not? Maybe it’s dawned on him that Sergio gave him two of them.

When asked to rank his putting on a scale of 1 to 10, Sergio says he’s a “15.” He’s not only a bad putter, he flunked arithmetic.

In earlier days the only thing thicker than heather at a British Open was the nose hair on an R&A official.

When there’s a lull in British Open action you can keep the mind alert by counting the toenails in your pork pie.

But I digress. We’re here to talk about Jenkins’ book. The columns come in chronological order and are separated by decades.

Jenkins’ economy in describing four days of golf action, the key elements and critical factors, is easy to overlook because of his incisive one-liners. But it’s easy to appreciate when you’re reading so many of his stories back-to-back.

But nobody, perhaps outside of the late Jim Murray, can wield a one-liner like Jenkins.

When the slow-playing Dr. Cary Middlecoff won the 1955 Masters, Jenkins led: It’s entirely possible that Dr. Cary Middlecoff gave up on dentistry because people couldn’t hold their mouths open that long. Middlecoff is beyond a doubt the most tedious, fidgety, and methodical golfer that has ever roamed the fairways, and now the tall, 34-year-old ex-dentist from Tennessee, a guy usually seen in a white visor pausing on his backswing long enough for a turkey to be roasted, holds the record for the biggest margin of victory in the history of the Masters.

I suppose I appreciate collections like this because they were pounded together on deadline. Jenkins has polished up these pieces, but for the most part, they are the work he produced in the heat of the moment.

You read pieces like his report from the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, in which Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus battled, and think that he can’t write it much better than that. Then a few pages later, he does.

Within these pages are Jenkins’ recounting of Fuzzy Zoeller’s 1979 Masters win, and Fuzzy’s 1984 U.S. Open win at Winged Foot, after which Jenkins wrote: “Maybe everybody should play golf the way Fuzzy Zoeller does. Hit it, go find it, hit it again. Grin. Have a smoke. Take a sip. Make a joke. Every so often, win a major championship.”

And Jenkins’ column from the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla is here, and begins this way:

The 1996 PGA Championship was lost by a fellow named Kenny Perry, a local hero, who started celebrating too soon and then spent too much time auditioning for an announcing job on network TV. Which left it to be won by a cool, tough Texan named Mark Brooks, a guy who looked like he might smile only if he heard the press tent was on fire.

It was an unusual championship, to put it mildly. One that was held in a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky, that didn’t exist until the PGA came to town and put the tournament at Valhalla Golf Club, a course that didn’t exist until designer Jack Nicklaus came to town and rounded up all of the limestone, power lines and bent grass he could find.

Anyway, you get the picture. But there’s always time for one more. Jenkins’ piece on Greg Norman’s collapse that gave Nick Faldo the 1996 Masters is, I think, perhaps, my favorite golf game-story ever.

It begins . . .

On the morning of the last round of the 1996 Masters, smart money knew to have several leads handy because we were dealing with a Greg Norman thing. Every possibility from his planter’s hat being found floating in Rae’s Creek to Greg finaly winning and hopping into one of his helicopters and skywriting a message to his favorite group of people: “Put this in Your Pressroom, You Middle-Income Jerks.”

Later, Jenkins went to his wedge.

“One the one hand, you could appreciate why Faldo hugged Greg on the final green. Why wouldn’t you hug a guy who’s been so nice to you? Or it could have been a Heimlich maneuver — what do you think?

Jenkins concludes:

In Augusta, it was good of Greg to remind us in his post-Masters interview that his financial worth is still in the $40 million range, and that he still considers himself a winner, and that he’s still a perfectionist. To which he added, “I feel confident in my belief and my approach to whatever I do that I can do it. If I wanted to be a brain surgeon and take the time to study that, I could.”

Maybe so, but he wouldn’t operate on this cowboy — not on Sunday’s anyhow.

Clearly, Jenkins can wield a scalpel.

You don’t get many sports book recommendations here, but this one’s a keeper.

In an Epilogue, he picks his all star golf team. Best driver, fairway woods, players with long, middle and short irons, best pitching, chipping, sand, putting, trouble, swing, charisma and interview.

He didn’t go so far as to name a golf writer. But the body of work shows, he has that one locked up.


9 thoughts on “A must-read on golf’s majors

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