There’s no denying Miguel Ángel Jiménez is a born entertainer; the Spaniard has proven to be one of golf’s most endearing individuals on and off the course. Here, he talks about career memories, fast cars, and finding the Fountain of Youth.
Any professional sportsman who maintains the mantra “water is for fish, my friend,” is sure to be a little different to his contemporaries.
Equally, anyone able to draw a crowd of enthusiastic spectators as they stretch and gyrate their way through a now characteristic warm-up routine, possesses an extra sense of showmanship about them than the average golfer. For Miguel Ángel Jiménez, the permanently cigar-chomping, wine- and whiskey-loving bon vivant of golf, such eccentricities have made him one of the sport’s most entertaining players.
And in spite of his modern role as an elder statesman of the sport, the Malaga-native has lost none of his passion for the game or his idiosyncratic excesses.
“I love this game of golf!” the 54-year-old declares. “I still love the competition and that feeling I get when I walk on to the 1st tee in a tournament. And of course, it’s important to enjoy yourself too; for me, a nice glass of wine and a cigar will always be a part of my life and who I am.”
“I still love the competition and that feeling I get when I walk on to the 1st tee in a tournament. And of course, it’s important to enjoy yourself too.” – Miguel Ángel Jiménez
Such is the attitude that has endeared Jiménez to fans around the world in spite of the occasionally up and down manner of his career statistically. That’s not to say, of course, that his 21 wins on the European Tour and four PGA Tour Champions titles are to be sniffed at, but Jiménez has often had trouble sticking the landing after strong starts, and even a couple of his victories have been snatched from the jaws of a potential defeat first initiated by his own hand when in a commanding lead.
Perhaps it’s better this way: Jiménez’s long-haired flamboyance and easy charm lend themselves to the on-green assumption of, if not underdog status, then certainly as a fan favourite who will be cheered on whatever the results. Even in slipping up, Jiménez is unique – and in victory there is surely no golfer happier to find themselves sopping in a champagne spray.
Then there’s his penchant for crowd-pleasing moments of magic. There are a pair of albatrosses on his record, for example: the first in 1994 at the 17th hole at Valderrama, and then again at the 2009 BMW PGA Championship, courtesy of a 206-yard 6-iron. And Jiménez has developed somewhat of a reputation for sinking shots straight from the tee. It’s hard not to like a golfer with a hole-in-one habit, after all, even if, to Jiménez, the rewards aren’t always up there in his esteem.
“I had my 10th hole-in-one at the BMW PGA Championship in 2015 and I think that record still stands on the European Tour, no?” he grins. “I am sure I must have had others whilst playing with friends, but I don’t keep count of those. Unfortunately, in nine of those I either won a bottle of champagne or nothing at all! But at the Scandinavian Open in Sweden in 1990 I won a Volvo, which was great.”
Then again – as mentioned previously – there’s been no shortage of wins in Jimenez’s career; 21 European Tour and seven Asian Tour victories stand him in good stead. His win last year at the Senior Open, a favourite championship of legendary pro Gary Player among others, show that Jiménez is not about to hang up his clubs and deprive golf fans of his on-course antics any time soon.
“It was an amazing week and very emotional of course,” he says. “Everyone wants to win a major at the Home of Golf and so to win the Senior Open on the first occasion it was held at St Andrews was so special.”
Surely, such a victory calls for the kind of life-affirming celebration that Jiménez particularly approves of?
“Of course!” he chuckles. “It was nice to have some of my family and friends with me that week and for them to all enjoy the experience. After the presentations we went back to the hotel and a big group of us had a nice dinner, a few bottles of great Spanish wine, a few whiskies and one or two cigars. But we were not at it too late, as I had a very early alarm call for my flight on Monday back to Malaga, unfortunately.”
Jiménez’s 30-year-plus global career on course have also given him a unique insight into the comings and goings of some of golf’s greatest players. From the phenom that is Tiger Woods – “his charisma and attitude will be hard to replace in the future” – to Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo. But one name reigns supreme for Jiménez in his personal pantheon of golfing giants: his countryman and former World No.1, the late, great Seve Ballesteros.
“Seve was very much in my mind as I held the Claret Jug, and to have my name alongside his as a winner of a major at St Andrews is a great privilege.” – Miguel Ángel Jiménez
His Senior Open win, therefore, proved to be more than just a hard-fought nod to the home of golf. It was, as Jiménez himself said on the 18th green during his victory speech after beating Bernhand Langer by just a single stroke, the “place where Seve won his second Open” and looking back he explains that “Seve was very much in my mind as I held the Claret Jug, and to have my name alongside his as a winner of a major at St Andrews is a great privilege.”
Seve’s reputation precedes him throughout the sport, but to Spanish golfers in particular he is an idol without true compare. Unfortunately for Jiménez he was never able to play alongside Ballesteros as part of a Ryder Cup team, but he was included with continental compatriots Jose Maria Olazabal and Sergio Garcia during his four appearances in the event, with the first of these being at none other than the infamous ‘Battle of Brookline’ in 1999. Four Cups – and two victories – later, Jiménez is left with just one regret.
“I had the most incredible experiences as part of those Ryder Cup teams and certainly for a long time I really wanted the opportunity to be Captain of the European Team, but sadly it was not to be,” he says.
RIGHT: Longevity has been one of the 54-year-old’s most impressive achievements. PHOTO: Getty Images.
“I know now that my chance has passed. The captain needs to be involved in the European Tour in the years leading up to the Ryder Cup, playing with the potential team members, mixing with them on a regular basis, creating a chemistry with the players. Now that I am spending most of my season on the PGA Tour Champions, I don’t have the chance to do this, so I know that this possibility has gone.”
This aside, the ever-affable Iberian certainly isn’t one to dwell on the past – and all told he’s proud to have realised his earliest ambitions when he was a young caddie in his native country.
“My brother was working as a professional at Torrequebrada Golf Club near my home in Malaga and so I used to go to the club and caddie for a bit of money here and there,” he reminisces.
“When I had the chance, I would hit a few balls and I loved it. Then in 1979 the Spanish Open was held at the club and I was able to see some of the great names of the time competing and it was then I decided, that’s what I want to be in the future.”
If the modern game were to be bereft of entertainers like Jiménez after the Spaniard’s eventual retirement, then it would certainly be the worse off for that void. The recent trend of longer courses and bigger hitters have certainly affected ‘strategic’ players like Jiménez – although he hopes that his new venture in course design will address that imbalance somewhat – but there’s few players out there today with such a glut of golfing knowledge.
“Age has given me more experience in dealing with the mental side of the game,” he reflects. “I would say that I am much more focussed and able to concentrate better on the course in general, as well as having more confidence in my ability. And certainly, I have learned that it is very important to remember to enjoy yourself in whatever you are doing.”
As he moves into the autumn of his career, it would be unfair to say that Jiménez was slowing down – because he’s always taken life slowly, drinking in every minute of his time on earth like one of his beloved Riojas. The passion for wine, whiskey, cigars, cars and such may have earned him the moniker ‘The Most Interesting Golfer in the World’, but it should never be forgotten that his timeless traits would be nothing without the underlying passion of the game that drives him in such a permanently positive manner.
“I wish I could say I had found the Fountain of Youth, but I am still searching for it,” he laughs. However, I have been very fortunate so far to have remained very fit and healthy throughout my career, but I also put the time and effort into working hard on my game.
“The game of golf is a great test of yourself, not just physically, but also how you deal with the mental side of the game, especially in situations under pressure. You learn a lot about yourself through golf, and I owe everything I have to this amazing game.”
THE FINER THINGS IN LIFE
HIS FAVOURITE WINE IS … “Rioja! As a proud Spaniard and Andalucian, I cannot say anything else. I have too many in my collection to count, but a couple of nights ago my wife and I enjoyed a nice bottle of Torre Muga together.”
HIS FAVOURITE CIGARS ARE … “Always Cuban. It is the look, the feel, the taste – there is something unique about a Cuban cigar that you cannot find from anywhere else in the world. I never smoke during official rounds – only practice rounds and afterwards, when I love a little whiskey and a nice Cuban cigar.”
HIS FAVOURITE ‘MECHANIC’ MEMORY IS … “I took my Ferrari round the race circuit at Jerez but that was a very expensive way of killing the tyres. The year after I won the BMW PGA Championship in 2008, I had the chance of driving a BMW round Brands Hatch which was fun. I always say that if I hadn’t been a professional golfer, I would have loved to have been a racing driver.”