By Sally Jenkins
Sunday, June 21, 2009
When I picked up the silver fox known as my father at the airport, he had very little luggage, which was odd. A celebrated golf writer, he was en route to the U.S. Open for his landmark 200th major championship, yet he didn't appear to have any writing implements with him, steam powered or otherwise. What was the deal with that, I wanted to know? "I'm not writing," he announced. "I'm twittering."
The Ancient Twitterer we now call him in the twittersphere, where he has become a sensation. His first major was the 1941 U.S. Open, which tells you how old he is to be doing this sort of thing. Dan Jenkins will turn 80 in December, and yet here he is, a darling of the New Media for his 140-character reports for Golf Digest (@danjenkinsgd) from rain-tortured Bethpage.
"The first round is over," he twittered. "I've seen shorter NBA seasons."
He was 11 when he attended the '41 Open at Colonial Country Club in our home town of Fort Worth. There is an old black-and-white photo of him there, a little kid in khaki britches following the defending champion Lawson Little and Gene Sarazen. It's framed and hangs on his wall and he has attached a balloon caption coming out of Sarazen's mouth: "If the little kid behind me in the stripped shirt grows up to be a golf writer, the sport is in trouble."
He was literally bronzed earlier this week (and also bobbleheaded) for his accomplishments chronicling the sport in a ceremony co-hosted by Golf Digest and the U.S. Golf Association. This is his 57th straight U.S. Open, and he has also been to 59 consecutive Masters, 44 PGA championships and 40 British opens. You can read about those adventures in his latest book published last month, "Jenkins at the Majors." Even before the bronzing, he could be a rather intractable sort, not a man to change his habits, and the shift from an Olivetti typewriter to a laptop computer was hard. But this twittering thing has come to him with astonishing ease.
"Right now there's a seven-way tie for the lead," he twittered. "Where are the squeegees when you need them?"
A few minutes later: "Your leader of the U.S. Open: the law firm of Martin, Weaver & Brehaut, dealing in personal injury."
After two days he had 1,700 followers and designs on Britney Spears's audience. He also did a podcast. "You're having a renaissance," I said, awestruck. "You're a renaissance man. A Medici."
Bloggers a fraction of his age were taking knees in subservience. ESPN's Trey Wingo was e-mailing me, saying, "I would consider a follow from him the highpoint of my career." Deadspin founder Will Leitch wrote: "It's kind of unbelievable Twitter existed without him. Proves my theory: Had he started a blog before Deadspin, I'd be flipping burgers."
When he wasn't buckling his audience with one-liners, he was awing them with his encyclopedic knowledge of history and his recall.
"A line that lingers: Ben Crenshaw, after finding water at Medinah's 17th in 1975: "I think I hit it with my throat instead of the 2-iron."
"Jack Nicklaus, to the USGA's P.J. Boatwright at Pebble in '72: "What did you do with all the grass?"
By Saturday, he was all that relieved the boredom of the endless rain delays and the grindingly slow play.
"Third round starts at 5:30 with groups of two going off 1 and 10 tees; I've got another hour to contemplate Azuma Yano as an Open contender," he twittered.
"Getting in the second round and starting the third round despite the weather forecast is golf's luckiest day since Tiger was born."
All across the press room, his colleagues marveled at his transformation from an old-world typist into a social networker. He twittered that, too.
"Another writer just dropped by and said, 'I never thought I'd see the day: Dan Jenkins on Twitter.' I told him, 'Bob, it's a new world.' "
He has hearing aids and thick glasses and he takes seven pills a day, and he's supposed to watch what he eats, which he never does.
"I know what I want for Father's Day," he announces to me every year at this time.
"What?" I ask.
"If you were any kind of decent daughter you'd get me a cheeseburger."
This year, the man gets what he wants. He's earned it.