Anchor Books, 2010
Dan Jenkins follows in the rich tradition of the inimitable Herbert Warren Wind, the platinum standard for every golf writer who wielded a pen. Everything written about golf must be measured against the unassailable legend.
In this collection Jenkins comes up short because, apparently, some editor decided it was better to put as many truncated essays between the covers as possible. Consequently, Jenkins' skills appear sparsely, and there is no bibliography to disclose where the originals originally appeared. This is regrettable because we have no less than 94 stories from the 197 golf majors Jenkins has covered as a reporter.
Jenkins' felicity with words may be equal to Wind. His knowledge of golf is equal though of a more recent vintage, one that spans the last 60 years, and Jenkins does Wind one better in his unparalleled ability to bring a sense of humor and comparison to a very serious sport. It should be noted that Jenkins' use of humor has gotten him into trouble from time to time.
Wind's essays are longer and more literate, which befits a time when writing was king, radio was predominant, and television was nascent. Newspapers provided the news and golf fans took the time to read. Most of Jenkins' career largely coincided with the growth of television - especially ESPN - and a sea change in how fans got their information. The move from print-based reporting to cathode-ray-based reporting ultimately resulted in shorter, less literate print reportage. Again, it would have been nice to have fewer stories at full length.
Jenkins first came to this reviewer's attention nearly forty years ago with his articles in Sports Illustrated. He retired from there in 1985 to write books fulltime and a monthly column for Golf Digest. This is his twenty-third book, the best known of which is probably Semi-Tough, later made into a movie. It is still considered one of the better movies about life in the National Football League.
One of the highlights of this collection is a discussion of a rules change in 1977. Keep in mind that effective 2010 the USGA, the governing body of US golf, determined that the grooves on golf clubs should be changed from square to round. That 1977 controversy was over the actual width of the square grooves. The summation of that issue, which may be meaningful only to the serious golfer, is a lengthy quote from Ed Snead. He noted the legalities of the golf ball, the club ("made of aluminum, titanium, graphite, hickory, or moon rock"), the grip ("rubber, cord, or leather"), and shots hit from fairways mowed at 29/54 of an inch onto a green mowed to 5/32 then 7/64 on the weekend. Given all these factors, "it's then of course very easy to see how a groove in an iron club that is a thousandth of an inch off can be one hell of an advantage."
Another prescient statement: "What continually saves the PGA, however, are the precious few immortals who have the built-in factors of greed and arrogance going for them and only have to show up to remind the others that they are purely set decoration. Tiger (Woods) at Southern Hills is the latest example."
Two of the best features occur at the end. In an excellent "Epilogue," Jenkins lists and explains his "All-Time, All-Star Golf Team." From Ben Hogan as the best driver of the ball to Jack Nicklaus (long irons), Lee Trevino (chipping), and Arnold Palmer (charisma), it is a listing of the very best. Finally, Jenkins provides the top-ten scores from each of the tournaments he writes about in this book. The serious golfer will particularly appreciate this trip down memory lane.