Dan Jenkins & The Fort Worth Clutch by Turk Pipkin
Fort Worth has long been the stomping grounds of hustlers, sandbaggers and flat-belly golfers who can empty your wallet faster than a Times Square pickpocket. Still, it's a bit of a surprise when hometown hotshot Kevin Pedigo rips a tee ball on a downhill par four that passes one of my all-time longest drives on the fly. And the real eye opener comes when we discover that his approach shot is nearly as long as mine. Only Kevin is chipping back to the green.
"I'm leaving tomorrow for the PGA tour qualifier," Pedigo tells me, "I've got to make it or else Ill have to get a job. Man, thats pressure!
Pedigo's playing partner is his father-in-law Bill Russell ("Not Bill Russell the basketball player, adds Russell, who is white and maybe 5 10 tall).
Im also hoping Kevin qualifies at Q school," Russell tells me. "So I can caddie for him on the tour. Otherwise weve both got to get a job.
Welcome to Fort Worth. I am at Z Boaz golf course named one of "America's Worst Twenty Courses" to play in the annual Dan Jenkins Partnership, a tournament celebrating Jenkins' 1965 Sports Illustrated story, The Glory Game at Goat Hills.
Golf writing may never again be so funny as Jenkins' tale of his well-wasted youth on a hard scrabble course in South Fort Worth. But with characters like Cecil the Parachute (who swung so hard he fell down), Weldon the Oath (a swearing postman), a mechanic named Grease Repellent and backward talking Foot the Free ("short for Big Foot the Freeloader"), Jenkins was only proving the old adage that truth is funnier than fiction. May the writer with the best memories win.
Three decades later, Jenkins' and his motley crew celebrate the good old days with a tournament affectionately referred to as the Meatloaf Sandwich open. The original Worth Hills golf course has long since been replaced by a TCU dormitory, but there's little doubt that Z Boaz makes a suitable replacement. Last year an elderly ball hawk's body was found floating in one of the ponds on the course. The fourth hole passes a topless bar (in case you've forgotten what breasts look like) and the 17th overlooks a check-cashing liquor store (in case you've lost your own shirt).
By the time I unsheathed my putter for the 9:00 a.m. tee time, someone had already swiped a new sleeve of Titleists out of my cart. No matter, one putt on the wet practice green and the ball was covered in a custom fur coat made of thousands of tiny brown grass blades.
"It's like putting on a sweater," moaned one of young bucks.
The old guys just grinned. Another sucker.
There's not even a practice range at Z Boaz, but the tournament is still designed to make you feel good about your game. The two person scramble format lets you play the team's best shot after you've improved it a club length in any direction. You can also shell out twenty bucks for two mulligans and a piece of string which can turn one nine inch par putt into an automatic birdie. Finally, on the 9th and 18th holes, you can buy a 400 yard drive.
"The rules are all mine," says Jenkins. "Things to make the game easier. And Im still campaigning for one free throw per side. Smart money saves the throw till you're two feet from the hole, then you can drop it in. But it can be handy out of a bunker, too."
"If you can't break par here," one of Jenkins high school pals told me, "then you didn't grow up in Fort Worth."
The old gang, by the way, was out in force. At the official kickoff party the evening before, young sportswriters with straight-arrow names like Larry, Barry and John exchanged war stories with official Goat Hills survivors Magoo, Matty, Puke and John the Band-aid. Along with a few margaritas and tumbler-sized glasses of scotch, this made for an interesting mix.
Magoo, in the gospel according to Jenkins, once jumped the fence onto the very private Colonial Country Club course to win the gang's cross-town thousand-yard golf match before the local authorities could haul him away to the hoosegow. In typical Fort Worth fashion, Magoo (otherwise known as Vince Minter) eventually became not only a member of Colonial, but also its President.
John the Band-Aid, once the group's champion club breaker, is New Orleans lawyer John OConnell, now a his home course's club champion. Los Angeles actor and comedian Norm Alden, who's nickname used to be E-Pod, is now known simply as "Puke." Associated Press writer Mike Cochran, his ear-to-ear grin nearly obscured by a bushy black beard, answers to Black Santa.
If theres a worse golf tournament in America, I dont know about it, said Cochran. Can you imagine paying a hundred and forty bucks for a party with two free drink tickets, a round of golf at Z Boaz and a cold meatloaf sandwich?
A long-time sport and court reporter, Cochran covered the OJ trial of the eighties in which Fort Worth millionaire Cullen Davis was acquitted of murder.
When my book on Cullen's trials came out, Cochran told me, "I was afraid he was gonna have me killed, so I bought a life insurance policy to protect my family. But Cullen got the last laugh because the premium on the policy ended up being more money than the book royalties."
Cochran's Black Santa nickname (which Jenkins' sportswriting mentor Blackie Sherrod continues to mis-speak as 'Black Jesus') was coined by local golf honcho Jerry Todd, the funny man blamed for inventing many of the groups weird monikers.
At the party, Todd held court for the largest continuous crowd, probably because he was also holding the giant roll of red drink tickets without which the thirsty throng would have to resort to cash, but possibly because he strings a good yarn.
One story he repeated throughout the evening was at the expense of Larry Dorman, former golf writer at the New York Times and now the director of marketing at Callaway Golf. Dorman had arranged for Odyssey to send eight putters to the tournament as prizes, but when Todd unpacked the putters he discovered they were all left-handed.
I bet theres some guy at the Left-handed Golfers Championship, said Todd, "who's going crazy right now!
In addition to being the longtime publicist for the Colonial Invitational, Todd is also renowned in Goat Hills lore as having played in the second greatest hole of golf ever, a cross-town marathon which ended in a brown loafer in the closet of Todds apartment. The hole was won (with a score of 517) by Jenkin's longest and closest friend, Edwin Bud Shrake.
Having shared the workload and limelight with his pal Dan at the Fort Worth Press, the Dallas Morning News and at Sports Illustrated, Shrake became a successful screenwriter and the author of the best selling sports book of all times, a simply perfect golf tome called "Harvey Penicks Little Red Book."
"Jenkins lives in the past," says Shrake, "And he's proud of it. He has a lot of years he likes to live in, but his favorite is 1938 which just happens to be the last time TCU won the national football championship.
It also happens to be about the time that Jenkins was introduced to the game of his life, first playing at Katy Lake, the sand green track where Hogan also first teed it up.
"We werent so serious then," Jenkins told me. "We were interested in golf because it was Ft. worth and it was Nelson and Hogans town, two of the greatest golfers who ever lived. And every one of us, maybe in the sixth grade, had a moment when we thought wed be the next Ben Hogan."
Just out of high school and already a fledgling sportwriter at the Fort Worth Press, Jenkins was one of the few young players who could go out and tee it up at Colonial with Hogan his ownself.
"You could win the U.S. Amateur," Hogan told young Dan one day on the veranda at Colonial. "But you'd have to work. You'd have to do everything I say for the next year."
"Why would I want to do that?" Jenkins replied, knowing the pressure of competitive golf as well as how much work would be required for such a feat.
Hogan of course, was the ultimate believer in practice, while Jenkins subscribed more to the Byron Nelson natural golf method.
"Jenkins probably hasnt hit a 100 practice balls in his life," says Shrake. "When Dan was Captain of the TCU golf team, they were playing a match against UT at Lions Municipal. Wed been out drinking all night and Dan came up to the first tee, took off his coat and tie, rolled up his sleeves, took one practice swing and hit a wild duck hook into the woods."
Well, Im one down," he said. "Lets go.
Jenkins, by the way, went on to win the match 2 and 1.
Unofficial Goat Hills historian Dr. Don Mathis still called Matty' and still able to play a tune with his fingernails on his front teeth is now a respected Ft. Worth Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor.
In the old days," recalls Mathis, "I never remember Dan sleeping more than three hours a night. I was with him every evening till 2 a.m., and he went to work at the paper at five."
What I really wanted to know from Mathis was whether Dan's Goat Hills stories really happened.
You bet they did. Over and over again; all except the battery acid story which only happened once.
In case youre one of the deprived American golfers who hasnt read the Goat Hills story (available in serveral books: Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate, Fairways and Greens, or the recent multi-author collection, Under the Lone Star Flagstick), the battery acid story concerns the time when in the middle of a multiple bet eightsome at Goat Hills, Jenkins flipped a three wheel electric golf cart on himself and his playing partner Little Joe.
Magoo glanced down at Little Joes white canvas bag, already being eaten into by the battery acid.
Two dollars says Joe dont have a bag before we get to eighteen, he said.
Little Joe's bag lasted until the 14th green where, when he went to pick it up after putting out, nothing was left but the two metal rings, top and bottom, joined together by a wooden stick and shoulder strap. And most of his left trouser leg was going fast.
Two says Joe is stark naked by the seventeenth, said Magoo.
Not only did they finish the round, but Jenkins and Little Joe both birdied the last hole. "Magoo and John the Band-Aid talked for weeks," concludes Jenkins, "About the time they got beat by a cripple and a guy who was on fire.
Jenkins has come a long ways since the Goat Hills days, and since normal journalistic conventions force me to ignore the fact that he's always treated me like a gentlemen, I am now compelled to state that Dan Jenkins is an opinionated old goat.
Since I've buried my lead, let me re-state that in bold letters.
Dan Jenkins is an opinionated old goat.
By his own admission he is "older than beltless slacks and twice as old as tasseled loafers." And though he's opinionated, most of those opinions are solidly rooted in fact. By the time his byline for the Masters or the Ryder Cup has dried, chances are that most of his five million Golf Digest readers will come around to his way of thinking. And if they dont, Jenkins really doesnt care, because Dan Jenkins has been there and done that done it enough to know when he's right.
Three years ago when Jenkins was scheduled for a quadruple by-pass heart surgery, the doctors only had to perform a triple by-pass, prompting announcer Dave Marr (rest his sweet soul) to quip that "Dan had birdied open-heart surgery."
But from my tees it looks to me like Dan Jenkins has also birdied life. Hes smoked a million cigarettes, downed a billion martinis and lived to tell about them all. He's walked countless hallowed fairways with the greatest golfers who ever lived, learned enough from three (count them) three early marriages to make his fourth wife the love of his life, and he still counts among his friends the same group of pals from whom he was launched into the world of big-time golf.
One of the ways to occupy yourself in those good old days in Fort Worth, was to wander over to Ridglea Golf Course where gambler and golf hustler Titanic Thompson spent the final years of a long and colorful life hustling change simply for the thrill of it.
Among a thousand other things of note in his life, Ti Thompson was a part of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal, was a player at the New York poker game in which Arnold "The Brain" Rothstein was killed, and he could take you apart on the golf course left-handed, right-handed, or probably no-handed if he had a mind to.
"Ti Thompson is the man you would most like to have known, wrote Dan Jenkins in the Glory Game at Goat Hills.
Someday, hopefully not for a long, long time, someone will write the same thing about Dan Jenkins. And that's why every October I make make the pilgrimage to Z Boaz to celebrate good old days that I have only read about.
My partner for three years running has been five-time Grammy winner Ray Benson, lead singer of the Western Swing band, Asleep at the Wheel. Together Ray and I stack up at over thirteen feet tall, weigh in at just under five hundred pounds, and have a combined shoe size of 30. When the two of us step out of a trap, our prints in the sand look like a scene out of The Land Before Time.
Our goal is not to beat the field, but merely to win our Nassau grudge match with Shrake and his partner, movie producer Craig Baumgarten. Though Baumgarten is a six handicapper at Riviera CC and Shrake's nickname among our group in Austin is The Shotmaker, we hosed them last year when I chipped in on the ninth hole for an eagle and my lofty partner did the same on the eighteenth.
"It was certainly nice to birdie the 9th and 18th holes sometimes," writes Jenkins.
Unable to get our birdie engines revved up this year, we stop at the turn for a meatloaf sandwich power boost. Next to me is Michael McCambridge, author of The Franchise," a behind the scenes look at the history of Sports Illustrated in which Jenkins is featured heavily. Taking a bite of his cold meatloaf sandwich, McCambridge turns to me with a grin.
Its like the John Travolta milkshake line in Pulp Fiction," he says. "I dont know if this is worth a hundred and forty bucks, but its a damn good meatloaf sandwich."
Well-meatloafed, Benson and I set out on the back nine and proceed to brother-in-law that course to death (no offense to the cadaver from the pond). It's a perfect day for golf: the cool Fall weather and clear blue skies marred only by the passing of F-16 Air Force jets screaming just over our head. Their sonic booms in the distance are nearly as good a mid-swing jibe as "Clutch, Mother Zilch," Moron Tom's now-famous line that Jenkins said "semi-retired me from golf forever."
The four flights for the tournament are Championship, Goat Hills, Dogged Victims and Semi-tough. As Benson turns in our scrambling, quadruple-mulligan, one-string, 9 under 61, we cant help notice that Jerry Todd has us on the scoreboard for 7 handicap strokes. That means a net 54, good enough to win our Goat Hills flight, a new Biggest Big Bertha Driver and the low net score for the tournament. Knowing all of that is somehow too good to be true, Todd passes the word to the scorekeeper and he promptly changes our team handicap from 7 strokes to 5.
"That's one-fourth of your 22 handicap total," says Todd as he rounds down from 5.5. But even with that cruel blow we still win second in our flight and a new Odyssey putter. The putter, by the way, turns out to be... right handed!
"Our system isn't perfect," laughs Jenkins. "The guy who won the last flight is a bookmaker who turned in an 18 handicap and is really an 8. Next year were gonna make him a 2!"
My winner's congratulations come from Black Santa who I think has a big grin behind that bigger beard.
Tell me honestly," he tells me. "Didnt this live down to all your expectations?
All that springs to mind are the immortal words of Moron Tom.
"Mighty fine, Por-ke-pine! Mighty fine!"
It's a couple of weeks later after the Q school qualifer is over that I call Kevin Pedigo's house to see how he's fared with his dream of the tour.
"Kevin's not here," his wife tells me. "He's out looking for a job."
All materials copyright, Turk Pipkin, unless