Interest Level in Jimenez is Unabated
By Dave Shedloski
UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – He ambled onto the practice range with that recognizable relaxed gait, his long curly hair mussed under a visor, sunglasses tucked into the front of his collared shirt. He was assiduously devouring a Dove ice cream bar.
The grandstands at Chambers Bay erupted with screams of “Miguel! Miguel!” for they knew that the avuncular Spaniard, perhaps the least likely man you’d expect to find in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking, was soon to start warming up. And that, friends, is only part – OK, maybe a large part – of the reason that Miguel Angel Jimenez, at 51, has become one of the most popular players in golf.
Another is that he is cool, a real-life embodiment of the fictional personality familiar in commercial television: the Dos Equis pitchman known as “The Most Interesting Man in the World.”
Oh, and despite an affinity for Havana cigars, fine wine and good food (evidence of the latter which he displays proudly under a bulging sweater vest), he’s a darn fine player. He would have to be to come into this week’s U.S. Open ranked 47th in the world, a position uncommon for a senior golfer, though certainly not unprecedented. The standard bearer is Ray Floyd, who in 1992, after a win at Doral and a runner-up finish at the Masters was ranked 14th when he turned 50.
Is Jimenez a serious threat in this week’s 115th U.S. Open? That’s about the only thing he’s serious about, really, and even then, he’s not too serious.
“I enjoy myself, yes, I enjoy what I do,” Jimenez said, taking a few minutes to speak to a reporter and delaying, to the chagrin of the adoring fans, his famous gyrating pre-practice warm-up routine, the one replete with squats and shimmies. “I love what I do in my life. I love the game. And I want to play well. I think I can play well here on this golf course. I believe in myself.”
Winner of 21 PGA European Tour titles, Jimenez hasn’t made the cut in the U.S. Open since 2008 when he tied for sixth place, one of two top-10 finishes in 13 appearances. But like the wine he consumes, the Spaniard appears to be getting better with age. Last year, after turning 50, he tied for fourth in the Masters Tournament, the best finish by a player over 50 since Sam Snead tied for third in 1963.
His inspired play has continued in 2015 with two runner-up finishes on the European Tour in successive weeks. He also notched his 10th career hole-in-one.
One of seven brothers, Jimenez began playing golf at age 15, and he finds it just as much fun today as he did as a boy. More so, perhaps, in fact, because it affords him a lifestyle that is equally enjoyable. He firmly believes it’s a lifestyle that keeps him young because it improves his frame of mind and disposition.
You play better golf when you’re happy. Who needs a sports psychologist? The younger set in professional golf should take note.
“They put too much stress on themselves,” he said. “I want to win, too. With them they think, ‘I have to, I have to, I have to.’ They don’t have to do anything except enjoy what they are doing, enjoy the game.”
If this week doesn’t work out, Jimenez will move on to the next major, which for him is next week at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento, Calif., when he competes in the U.S. Senior Open. He doesn’t know anything about the golf course, but the weather forecast pleases him – sunny with temperatures nearing 100 degrees.
“I like the heat,” he said with a grin.
He takes his popularity in stride. No surprise there. He does that with most things.
“This is my life, and I live it just the way I want to live it. I think people like that,” he said. “I don’t hide anything. If I have to exercise, I exercise. If I want to smoke a cigar, I smoke a cigar. If you cannot be yourself, how can you ever understand what you are capable of?”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.