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Golf isn’t the same without Dan Jenkins, Arnold Palmer and Dave Anderson

May 9, 2019

There was no Dan Jenkins at the Masters this year, for the first time since 1950. Jenkins will be cited but not seen at the PGA Championship at Bethpage next week. He died on March 7, in Fort Worth, where he was born in 1928. Dave Anderson, another sportswriting legend, was class of ’29. Dave died last year. Between them, they must have written a million words about Arnold, who was also born in 1929 and died on the eve of the 2016 Ryder Cup. More than a million, if you count the times Palmer showed up in Dan’s Twitter feed. Jenkins died while Arnold’s tournament was being played at Bay Hill, where Arnold lived. Dow Finsterwald, winner of the ’58 PGA Championship, lived down the street (and still does) on Masters Boulevard. He dropped by Arnold’s often, and they drank late-afternoon beers out of a dorm-room ’fridge in Arnold’s workshop. Dow was born in ’29, too.

A foursome of golf ’s greatest generation, right there. Not to be confused with Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation. That generation earned its capital letters in World War II (1939- ’45). The members of golf ’s greatest generation came out of college in the prosperity and peace of mid-century America. Your toaster lasted forever.

Rickie Fowler, bedecked in umbrellas at Bay Hill, can’t be expected to know why he was so drawn to Arnold. Maybe we can help: Arnold was cool. Dave Anderson, Dan Jenkins, Dow Finsterwald, the same, each in his own way. You can put Frank Chirkinian — legendary CBS producer and the father of the Masters on TV — on that same list. His first major live golf show was Finsterwald’s PGA win, at Llanerch Country Club, in suburban Philadelphia, where Chirkinian was born (’26) and raised. Right time, right place was more of a thing then. Most everything is fairer now, and success requires more actual ability, but being famous has never been more work.

Chirkinian’s friend Greg Norman will tell you: Nobody could pull off the fuschia cardigan like Frank (aka “The Ayatollah”) could. The Bay Hill winner gets a red one. (F. Molinari, the Italian Detective, in this year’s heat.) Only Arnold could bring je ne sais quoi to pushing up sweater sleeves. Ike’s cardigans were the color of overcooked oatmeal. Arnold’s color palette was pure Roy G. Biv, as is Rickie’s, except he seems to try so hard.

The last time I saw Dave Anderson was on a media bus from the Uniondale Marriott to Bethpage, at the 2009 U.S. Open. We had a nice bond, and were often laughing about something. (How about that Donald Trump, parking his Bentley practically on the first tee?) Dave was of the generation that did not bother with Crest 3D Whitestrips. Those guys accepted the aging process.

Seven Junes earlier, at Bethpage and on deadline, Jenkins wrote, “We all know that Tiger Woods’s main adversaries are Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, and Jack Nicklaus, but there’s a handful of guys who keep telling themselves they still have a chance to duke it out with him, except they keep losing. This time in the 2002 U.S. Open it was wishful thinking for two of them — for Phil (I’m proud of myself) Mickelson and Sergio (Mommie likes Tiger best) Garcia.”

Try to suppress your giggle.

I recall seeing Dow Finsterwald at a long-ago Masters. He was there as a rules official, and his black blazer was perfect. Tom Watson said something that annoyed Dow and Dow said, “Okay, Tommy.” The last time I saw Arnold, up close, was not quite five years ago, in his office in Latrobe, Pa. Arnold was at his desk chair, holding a sealed pink envelope at eye level, a letter from Conni Venturi, ex-wife of Ken. She was spectacular, and the whole tour loved her. (That’s a lowercase “t” — it wasn’t a brand.) Conni once told me about watching Arnold, shirtless, in a tournament hotel room, eating cereal and watching Saturday-morning cartoons with her son. An Instagram snap would have wrecked the whole thing.

If anyone could make tweeting cool, it was Jenkins. From last year:

Everybody is supposed to love Bethpage, because it’s public. Jenkins thought for himself, and he thought it was boring. As for his take on this year’s winner, we’ll have to guess, but Mommie is retired.