Life through a learner’s eyes

Dan Jenkins remembered as insightful storyteller

According to golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, his friend, fellow legend and late sportswriter Dan Jenkins shared with him “one of the greatest lessons” he ever learned.

At the 1960 U.S. Open in Englewood, Colo., Nicklaus was paired with Texan and veteran golfer Ben Hogan. Nicklaus led the tournament going into the back nine only to finish runner-up to Arnold Palmer after a pair of missed putts, which opened the way for a surging Palmer to erase a seven-stroke deficit in the final round.

“The first time Dan saw me really play was at Cherrywood there,” Nicklaus said.

Nicklaus later learned that Hogan said to Jenkins, “I played with a young kid (Nicklaus). If he’d known how to win, he would’ve won by several strokes.”

The 20-year-old Nicklaus was the reigning U.S. Amateur Champion and admitted he didn’t initially understand Hogan’s sentiment. He became a quick study and took the advice to heart. His Hall of Fame career includes a record-setting 18 major championships.

“As you go on, you’ve got to learn how to win, you’ve got to learn how to be smart,” Nicklaus said. “That’s all part of learning how to play golf … learning anything about life. You go through life and if you don’t learn from your mistakes — if you don’t learn from things that happen — you don’t ever get anywhere. And I paid particular attention to the kind of things I screwed up and tried not to repeat them.”

Successes and failures often crystallize as narratives. The Center for Sports Communication & Media at the Moody College of Communication examines how these stories are mirrored in life and are also communicated through the lens of sport.

Nicklaus was the featured storyteller at the center’s 2019 Jenkins Medal Awards Dinner last fall at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. During a moderated question-and-answer session with NBC sportscaster Jimmy Roberts, Nicklaus described his relationship with Jenkins and how it grew through the decades.

“Jenkins had his own sense of humor,” Nicklaus said. “Creative. Funny. I loved his books. I read every one of his books, and I don’t read much. He had a great wit.” 

Nicklaus said he was honored to be recognized as the inaugural Dan Jenkins Medal Sports Legend but what really fueled his desire to attend the ceremony was to celebrate Jenkins. Jenkins passed away in March 2019 at the age of 90.

“I’m here because Dan was a great friend, and I loved my relationship with him,” Nicklaus said.

Jenkins Medal Award winners for 2019 include Gary Smith for the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Sarah Spain and Dave Sheinin for the Best Sportswriting of the Previous Year Award.

“Adding the 'Jenkins Legend' to the Jenkins awards event allows us to emphasize the importance of storytelling across forms of sports communication and media,” said Michael Butterworth, director of the Center for Sports Communication & Media. “I can think of no one more appropriate than Jack Nicklaus to inaugurate this feature.”

Known primarily as an author and journalist with a particular gift for bringing golf narratives to life, Jenkins was published in newspapers and magazines and authored multiple books. He was known to gain the trust of his subjects as he explored and weaved their stories.

By sponsoring the Jenkins Awards, the center seeks to celebrate these narratives and preserve the legacy of great sportswriting. The center is equally committed to making sense of sport’s communicative potential in contexts ranging from broadcast production to interpersonal communication and public persuasion.

The center holds Jenkins’ sportswriting archive among other collections from Michael MacCambridge, Frank Deford and other icons in the industry. In addition to the Jenkins awards, the center presents the McGarr Symposium on Sports and Society, which includes the Frank Deford Lecture in Sports Journalism and connects students to alumni and professionals in sports communication and media industries.

Marc Speir
Senior Content Producer