Sports journalist and author Daniel Thomas Jenkins, was born on December 2, 1928, in Fort Worth, Texas. He was the son of Elza T. “Bud” Jenkins, Jr., a salesman and scratch golfer, and Catherine Louise (O’Hern) Jenkins. After his parents’ divorce, Dan and his mother moved in with his grandparents and other extended family members who Jenkins gave credit for his early love for sports and writing. His family’s love for sports led to his attendance at his first Texas Christian University (TCU) football game in the 1930s, and, when he was twelve years old, his most memorable golf experience at the 1941 U.S. Open at Colonial Country Club at Fort Worth. Around the same time, Jenkins’s grandmother gave him his first typewriter, and his Aunt Inez gave him his first golf clubs (a set of ladies’ clubs). As a student at Fort Worth’s R. L. Paschal High School, Jenkins wrote for the school newspaper, Pantherette. One of his local sportswriter parody pieces for the paper was sent to Blackie Sherrod, the sports editor for the Fort Worth Press. Sherrod, impressed with Jenkins’s style, hired the high school student and upon Jenkins’s graduation in 1948, sent him to TCU.
As the first in his family to attend college, Jenkins studied English and journalism and was a member and captain (1950–52) of the college golf team. In 1950 he played against then future Texas Golf Hall of Famer Morris Williams, Jr., at the Southwest Conference Championship. One year later he covered Ben Hogan’s win in the 1951 U. S. Open at Oakland Hills Country Club near Detroit for the Fort Worth Press; his coverage sparked a long friendship with Hogan. In 1953 Jenkins graduated college and continued as a sportswriter for the Fort Worth Press. He also wrote pieces for the Dallas Times Herald. Within the next six years, he had married and divorced Pattie O’Dell and Joan Holloway before he married his third wife, Fort Worth native and childhood friend, June Burrage, in 1959. They had three children. During those same years he won second place in the Fort Worth city golf championship (1955), published his first story for Golf Digest (1956), and won the Golf Writers Association of America Award (1957).
In late 1962 Sports Illustrated hired Jenkins as a full-time contributor where he wrote more than 500 articles covering some of the most important moments in sports history. He was noted for his biting wit and his in-depth knowledge of sports—especially golf and college football. During his more than twenty years at the magazine, Jenkins also began writing sports-related novels. In 1972 he published Semi-Tough an award-winning but controversial novel that follows the life of Billy Clyde Puckett, a professional running back, and his friend, roommate, and wide receiver, Shake Tiller. In a review from Sports Illustrated, Larry Keith described the book as “a bestseller about a couple of down-home football players with NFL moves and Fort Worth philosophies,” and as much of a memoir of Jenkins as a story about football. The book was adapted to film five years later starring Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, and Jill Clayburgh. Jenkins wrote four more novels while working for Sports Illustrated, and two of them, Dead Solid Perfect (1974) and Baja Oklahoma (1981), were made into television movies. In 1984 Jenkins and his wife, June, opened a Tex-Mex restaurant called Juanita’s on the Upper East Side in New York City. That same year he published Life Its Ownself: The Semi-Tougher Adventures of Billy Clyde Puckett & Them, a continuation of the life of Semi-Tough’s main character, Billy Clyde Puckett.
After leaving Sports Illustrated in 1985 over a supposed dispute with Gilbert Rogin, the managing editor at the time, Jenkins wrote monthly articles for Golf Digest and regularly contributed to Playboy magazine. Over the next ten years he published Fast Copy (1988); “You Call It Sports, But I Say It’s a Jungle Out There” (1989); You Gotta Play Hurt (1991); Bubba Talks of Life, Love, Sex, Whiskey, Politics, Movies, Food, Foreigners, Teenagers, Football and Other Matters That Occasionally Concern Human Beings (1993); Fairways and Greens (1994); and edited with Glenn Stout The Best American Sports Writing 1995 (1995). Jenkins was inducted into the Texas Golf Hall of Fame in 1993. He was honored in the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters (present-day National Sports Media Association) Hall of Fame in 1996. By 2002 Jenkins’s Semi-Tough made Sports Illustrated’s Top 100 Sports Books of All-Time, and three years later the National Football Foundation named him their official historian.
Jenkins returned to live in his hometown of Fort Worth by the mid-2000s. In 2004 he was among the inaugural media honorees in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. In 2009 the National Football Foundation awarded him with the Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football. That same year his book, Jenkins at the Majors: Sixty Years of the World’s Best Golf Writing, from Hogan to Tiger, which contains ninety-four of Jenkins’s best stories covering his first U.S. Open in 1951, when Ben Hogan took the title, to the 2008 U.S. Open when Tiger Woods gained the victory over Rocco Mediate, was published.
In the next ten years, Jenkins spent most of his time writing for Golf Digest and receiving accolades such as the Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing from ESPN and induction into the Lifetime Achievement category for the World Golf Hall of Fame, both in 2012. In 2013 he received one of sports journalism’s highest honors—the Associated Press Sports Editors’ Red Smith Award. In 2014 Jenkins caused controversy over his parody interview with Tiger Woods where Jenkins portrayed the golfer as spoiled and arrogant. Woods wrote back on The Players Tribune website and asked Jenkins, “Journalistically and ethically, can you sink any lower?” Despite the heated exchange, Jenkins published his autobiography that same year, His Ownself: A Semi-Memoir. In 2017 Jenkins published his last novel, Stick a Fork in Me. That same year, the Dan Jenkins Medal for Excellence in Sportswriting Award was established through the University of Texas’s Moody College of Communication Center for Sports Communication and Media. Also in 2017, the press box at TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium was named in his honor.
His very last published article with Golf Digest (which appeared in a 2007 issue) was about his experience covering his first Masters in 1951. As he described the sheer beauty of the green at the Augusta National Golf Club, Jenkins revealed his love for the sport through an autobiographical account of one of the most important early moments in his career. During his later years, Jenkins included online social media as another platform and often posted on Twitter as “The Ancient Twitterer.”
Daniel Thomas Jenkins passed away from heart and renal failure on March 7, 2019. He was survived by his wife June; his three children, Marty, Dan Jr., and award-winning sports columnist Sally Jenkins; a granddaughter; and a great-granddaughter.