THE MOST INTERESTING GOLFER IN THE WORLD
Miguel Angel Jimenez became the oldest man to ever win on the European Tour when he captured his country’s national championship, the Spanish Open in a playoff victory on Sunday.
I must admit, I’m a big Miguel Angel Jimenez fan. I don’t know if it’s because of his old hippie look, ever-present cigar, quirky stretching routine, the excellence of his game at the age of 50, the frankness and authenticity he conveys in interviews, or all of the above. I think what most impresses me is how he blends great golf skills with a passionate love of life, which he is not reluctant to put on display, on and off the course. It is this combination that makes him unique among modern professional golfers.
Unlike so many of today’s tour players, Miguel didn’t grow up in a carefully nurtured golf environment, with country club courses to play, competitive college golf opportunities, expensive swing coaches, personal trainers, psychologists, and family financial support. Rather, he grew up one of seven brothers in a family that struggled to make ends meet. His family life, however, was loving and happy, which helps explain his upbeat personality. At a young age, he worked as a driving range shagger and caddy at the Torrequebrada course near his home in Malaga. Later he worked in an auto repair shop. His time at the golf course didn’t bring him much money, but it introduced him to the game he would come to love.
Jimenez learned to play golf mostly by watching his older brother Juan, who has been his main swing coach throughout his career. The lure of golf riches led him to quit high school and join six friends to follow Spain’s mini-tours. Success, however, was elusive; He failed four times to get his European PGA Tour card before finally succeeding in 1989. Miguel first gained serious recognition in the U.S. when he finished tied for second behind Tiger Woods in the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach (albeit 15-strokes behind). From that time, Americans would come to know him by the nickname he acquired from his work in the auto repair shop: “The Mechanic.”
Miguel thoroughly enjoys living, sometimes on the edge. He loves skiing and fast cars, saying he would have driven race cars had he not become a professional golfer. What makes him different from other golfers is that he brings his free-spirit philosophy to the golf course. When you watch him play, you can’t help but be struck by how much fun he appears to be having, something I don’t think can be said about the overwhelming majority of people who play the frustrating game.
Jimenez enjoys being around people, a taste he acquired when following the mini-tours with his buddies. He cultivates friendships, which golf writer Tom Callahan noted in referring to Miguel as a “connoisseur of friendship.” Jimenez loves food and wine and late night dinners with groups of people he attracts at tour venues. (He’s known to order for everyone.) He also knows his way around the kitchen. A gregarious party animal by nature, he has been a free-spirit presence on several European Ryder Cup teams, as both player and assistant coach.
But make no mistake, Jimenez has game. He has a home-grown swing that isn’t going to be mistaken for Adam Scott’s, but it’s repeatable and effective. He plays by feel and can work the ball left or right. Though he doesn’t excel in any particular phase of the game, he can score. Some golfers have great talent, but somehow can’t post low numbers; Miguel Angel is just the opposite. His scoring secret is the intensity and supreme confidence he brings to the course. How many 50-year olds can finish as high as fourth at the Masters? (The answer: one, Sam Snead finished third in 1963.) He followed the Masters by wining his inaugural Champions Tour event, the Greater Gwinnett Championship, then in his next tournament won his country’s national open, the Open de Espana, becoming the oldest winner on the European PGA Tour. Jimenez has been top 10 in all four of the majors.
It is his unique combination of golf skills, idiosyncratic style, life rich in stories and experiences and comfort in his own skin that makes Miguel such an interesting and colorful tour player. His philosophy of life was summed up in Golf Digest: “If you ask why I’m a comfortable-looking man, maybe it’s because I come from a nice family. Poor, but always happy. Money helps you live better, but happiness is from the soul. Playing golf has been my job and my joy. Is there a luckier way to make a living?” This brings to mind Lou Gehrig, who even in adversity considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
A lover of good food, red wine, fine cigars, Ferraris, friendships, and the game of golf, Jimenez is indeed a most interesting man– as many have observed, a professional golf version of actor Jonathan Goldsmith’s character as “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” in the Dos Equis TV commercials.
Many golf writers and announcers borrow quotes from the commercial to characterize the colorful Jimenez. Jaime Diaz, for example, offered these beauties in a recent article in Golf World:
- “He once parallel parked a train”
- “His mother has a tattoo that reads, ‘son’”
Scanning a published list of the 100 best Most Interesting Man Quotes, I’ve selected the following as my favorites in capturing Miguel’s fictionalized omnipotent essence:
- “Cuba imports cigars from him”
- “He once had an awkward moment just to see how it feels”
- “His passport requires no photo”
- “His charm is so contagious, vaccines are created for it”
- “His 5 de Mayo party starts on the 8th of March”
- “He never wears a watch because time is always on his side”
- “He’s won the lifetime achievement award, twice”
- And my personal favorite: He’s so cool it makes ice jealous”
Busch League Sports would like to offer the following originals to the Jimenez archive:
- “When he talks to a putt, it listens”
- “The British royal family wanted to attend his wedding”
- “Even when he’s silent, people listen”
- “He’s been the best man at weddings of people he doesn’t even know”
- “Four star restaurants make reservations with him”
- “He completed the 24-Hours of Lemans in 2 hours”
- “Bulls at Pamplona want to run with him”
- “He once climbed Mt. Everest, blindfolded”
- “He satisfied the Rolling Stones
Miguel Angel Jimenez is truly, “The Most Interesting Golfer in the World.”
For further insights from The Professor, please visit his webpage, Phronesis.