Springfield, Mo. (For OzarksSportsZone.com) -- Anytime there’s a major on TV, like the recent Masters, David Jenkins holds a much higher level of appreciation for the skill level of professional golf’s best.
Does Jenkins envy them? Perhaps just a little.
Does he admire them for reaching that level of their craft? Most definitely.
Because the 32-year-old Jenkins, more than you and me and most everybody else who watches a golf major from our comfy chair or couch, has a deep understanding of just how difficult it is to achieve that lofty status.
After starring at both Missouri State and Mizzou on the links in the early 2000s, the former Glendale High School standout gave professional golf a try for five years. He lived the unenviable life that’s far from the luxury of the PGA Tour, the multi-million dollar purses and courtesy cars and folks waiting on stars hand and foot. His was one of “trunk-slamming” from event to event, trying to make enough money on the mini-tours to break even for the week, doubling-up with roommates in cheap chain hotels and trying to find that one big break, that one victory in the right place, time and payday, that could be the springboard to the game’s highest level.
For Jenkins, as with hundreds upon thousands of very, very good golfers trying to make it big, that moment simply never came.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t successful; there were several quality moments during Jenkins’ run – including four or five Top 10 finishes on the Adams Tour in 2008, when he was a finalist for the circuit’s Player of the Year award.
But in the end, Jenkins decided enough was enough. He retired from the pro golf after the 2009 season, choosing family life over chasing the links dream.
Jenkins, wife Brooke and their 14-month-old daughter Emmy now live in the Kansas City area (Prairie Village, KS), where Dave is an advertising salesman for a Kansas City television station and its affiliates.
Jenkins has no regrets. He gave it his best shot.
“When I got done playing golf, I knew I wanted to be in outside sales, so I was looking for something that didn’t require a lot of travel,” he says. “That was a big thing for me, to find something where I wasn’t out on the road for 30-plus weeks, because I had done that. I wanted more of a commitment to family. I had a contact in the industry, he talked me into taking the job and I really like it.”
His rounds of golf these days are for the most part limited to the many invitations he gets to play in corporate outings.
“I’m not playing as much as I’d like … but I’m usually at the top of list when someone’s putting a scramble team together,” Dave adds with a laugh. “It’s a great way to get to know people and build relationships. That’s what it’s all about (in sales).”
Jenkins graduated from Glendale in 2000, and signed with Missouri State to play for his lifelong mentor, then-Bears coach Rolly Hurst. He played No. 1 for the Bears as a freshman and sophomore, and earned an individual invite to the NCAA Central Regional in 2002. But after Hurst stepped down to pursue a full-time position in the ministry in the fall of his sophomore season, Jenkins played that spring for interim coach Bill O’Neill, then decided to transfer to Mizzou for his final two seasons, where he had long-time friends like Mark McBride and his future brother-in-law, Neal Stafford, playing for the Tigers.
“It was just a pretty natural fit for me to go up there,” Jenkins said. “The other draw was the competition, the Big 12 and playing on a bigger stage.”
Jenkins had a solid career as a Tiger as well – with his greatest victory, of course, meeting his future wife while both were students at Mizzou – and set out to pursue the pro golf life after graduation. That meant stints on the Adams Tour, the Midwest Tour, some mini-tour events on each coast and a handful of Nationwide Tour appearances, including the Price-Cutter Charity Championship in 2006. He generally tried to play some 28 to 30 weeks out of the year, which was tough not only financially, but being away from Brooke.
“I know my last year, I could say I was getting burned out a little bit,” he says. “It was starting to become more of a chore than a job. I lost a little bit of my love for it. I always wanted to have a family, have more of a normal life, and that played a big role in it. Five years was a good go at it, but I was definitely at a crossroads …
“I’m at peace with my decision. I miss competitive golf and I miss playing, but I’m grateful for the experiences I had. Those experiences helped me a lot, and I’m extremely happy where I’m at in life now.”
Jenkins says he still considers himself a student of the game and gives some private lessons from time to time. When he watches golf on TV, he finds himself studying swings and techniques more than results … at the same time, rooting for some of the many guys he met along the way in college golf and his pro years who have fought through, persevered and reached the pinnacle of the sport.
And certainly, admiring them for sticking with it. Jenkins gave it a shot five times at the PGA Tour’s Qualifying School, making it past the first stage just once.
“The sacrifices you have to make are enormous,” Jenkins says. “The time commitment, the overall skill level required … the game has just gotten so much bigger since I was introduced to it. You hope to time it right, get a couple of breaks, get into some big tournaments and finish well … it’s kind of a closed shop now.
“For those guys every year to get it done and keep their (PGA Tour) cards … I don’t think people understand just how hard it is to make a living doing that. It’s phenomenal how competitive its become and how much success some of the young guys are having.”
So what kept him specifically from making it?
Jenkins says he always had the length to compete with those trying to make it big, but expects that his streaky short game was ultimately the thing that held him back.
“When it was there, I would have good finishes,” he says. “I look at the guys I remember playing with who have made it to the (PGA) Tour, and they all had such a love for the game. For me, it had turned more into a job. Those guys that are really, really good, the ones I knew would make it and have, they just love to practice, love to work on their short game, love to play no matter what.
“Growing up, my instructors were always telling me, ‘you’ve got to find a way to love working on your short game.’ I didn’t touch a club for a year after I quit. I was completely done with it.”
Jenkins expects someday he’ll reach out to have his amateur status reinstated and begin to play in some of the highly competitive Missouri amateur events that he used as a teenager to prepare himself for prep and college competition.
Until then, his focus will continue to be on his young family, his sales profession … and the occasional Jenkins family golf outings here in Springfield, when he, brother Jon, brother-in-law Stafford (now the MSU golf coach), and Dad – Evangel’s Hall of Fame basketball coach, Steve Jenkins – get together for “friendly” matches.
“You can still count on Dad to bunt it out there and shoot a pretty respectable score, and Jon and Neal are pretty competitive when we play,” Dave says with a chuckle. “It doesn’t happen as much as it should. But that will get my competitive juices going more than anything.”
And, at the same time, Dave is quick to give credit where it’s due – it was Steve who first introduced him to the game, who served as his caddy in several pro events and to this day, likely remains his biggest believer.
“I’m fortunate with my parents (Steve and mother Rhonda) that I couldn’t have asked for two higher-character people,” Dave said. “Dad had a huge impact on me. I had Dad caddy for me anytime I had an event that was close … he was slow, his knees were creaky and he’d always get caught watching instead of caddying, but I always loved having him on the bag because I played well.
“I think it was the calming effect he had on me … He had a lot of confidence in me, and he knew I had the ability to do it.”
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