CHASKA, Minn. – It took just a few acerbic tweets before Dan Jenkins was dubbed "The Ancient Twitterer" and a few more after that before everyone following along – a group that grows by the minute – realized that the marriage between an old-school writer and a newfangled technology was made in heaven (or the 19th hole).
Jenkins is 79 and America's most legendary sports columnist. With more than 60 years in the business he's the author of nearly two dozen books and countless stories for Texas newspapers, Sports Illustrated and now Golf Digest. He's an ink and paper kind of guy, a long-form journalist if there ever was one. Forget Twitter; when he first started covering major golf championships in the early 1950s he sent his stories via Western Union.
"For years he didn't believe an ATM would really dispense money," his daughter, Sally, laughed. "So there were some technological hurdles."
No matter the distribution method, though, Jenkins' copy was famous for its original and pointed observations, its biting one-liners and most of all its humor. Dan Jenkins always has been hysterical, perhaps no more so than when he just was sitting around watching golf. He has cracked up press rooms and bar rails for years. Even the golfers he has covered.
So the editors at Golf Digest decided to try and capture all of it. June's U.S. Open was the 200th major championship Jenkins had reported on. His bosses set him up with a Twitter account (twitter.com/danjenkinsgd) and a staffer who would tap in Jenkins' running commentary.
"It's 140 characters, say what you want," Jenkins said he was instructed, no idea what this thing was about at the time.
It was a sensation by the third hole, and if you're trying to follow the PGA Championship that tees off Thursday here in Minnesota without Jenkins' Twitter feed, you're missing part of the experience. Here are a few missives from the U.S. and British Opens:
"John Daly, the trailer park called after seeing your pants. They want their shower curtains back."
"Four bogeys in a row for Barnes, and he's earned all four."
"Easy to root for Phil; still hard to root for those shirts."
"The first round is over. I've seen shorter NBA seasons"
"Women say men don't know what labor is like. Ross Fisher, whose wife is due any moment, just gave birth to an 8. They'll call the child Quad."
"(Chris Wood) looks like a guitar player who lost the rest of his band."
"Bulletin: Greg Norman just shot 77. And he wasn't even leading this time."
On and on they go; the snarkiest live blog on the Internet doesn't emanate from some college dorm, it belongs to a guy born in the 1920s. Sometimes he even pretends to be Sergio Garcia. It isn't all jokes. Jenkins falls back on history; he has been covering golf majors for more than 50 years now. He has a new book out, "Jenkins at the Majors," that chronicles an amazing journey, writing about the game from Hogan to Tiger.
Just about everything has changed through the years. The biggest? "Electricity," he says, noting Western Union no longer is needed. "And access to the players, big time."
There was a day when writers and golfers mingled freely, not just around the course but in watering holes after dark. Jenkins used to play golf with fellow Fort Worth native Ben Hogan. Now he says Tiger Woods is so distant that the golfer never has agreed to sit down for a one-on-one interview.
Given the chance, what would you ask Tiger?
"How bad are all these guys you're beating?"
Jenkins thinks the quality of competitor has dropped through the years, the current crop of players not named Woods are mostly made up of guys who are "scared to win." You can make so much money just finishing in the top 10, he reasons, the killer instinct is gone. It's why he still holds Nicklaus' 18 major championships in such high esteem.
"Those guys pushed Nicklaus," Jenkins said. "Now, you could argue that if Tiger faced the same level of competition, it would've made him better. You can spin it around. I just tend to look at it the other way."
His favorite major was the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. His favorite major course (non-Augusta National division) is Oakmont. He said they never set up a tournament tougher than Oakland Hills in 1951.
In today's instant analysis world, where else are you getting that? And who could have imagined that anyone now can tap into it via, of all things, a social networking site?
Twitter has opened up a whole new world, and presumably a whole new audience, for Jenkins. It's a youthful medium for an old writer; he's reaching young fans who otherwise never would've heard of him.
"He's a natural at it," said Sally, herself a best-selling author and columnist for the Washington Post. "I told him for years he needed to get a blog."
"No money in it," Dan shrugged back. "My blog would be called 'financially irresponsible.' "
Dan pointed out (and later tweeted) that he was getting close to nearly 4,500 followers.
"Great, dad," Sally said, "you're still two million behind Britney Spears."
He seems to relish being a bit of an old crank, only because he used to be a young one. He still has that sharp sense of comedic timing and the ability to roll off on oddly hysterical tangents. Consider his opinion on why Mexican food isn't what it used to be.
"Fish tacos," he said. "Now those are one the worst things to ever happen to the world. It's a crime against nature."
This will be the 202nd major he's covered, a number that may never be topped. The next closest is Oakland writer Art Spander at 135. "I don't think anyone can catch me," Jenkins said.
He isn't stopping. He has slowed down some, is forced to eat more cantaloupe than he'd like and he isn't famous for closing down bars the way he did back in the day, but "I don't believe in retirement." What's better than this anyway, he's paid to hang around golf tournaments with his daughter and lots of friends.
Besides, he has a new form of communication, a new outlet, a new audience. Twitter, of all things, has reinvigorated his career. He's trying to catch Britney Spears.
"It's been fun, I love it," he said.
The Ancient Twitterer will be back at work Thursday morning, snapping off the best one-liners on the Internet, the best sportswriter of them all proving himself once again.
- Dan Jenkins