“The most interesting golfer in the world”… nothing less than this grand title was how the US press described him during the 2014 US Masters at Augusta, where he went so close to the stunning achievement of winning, at 50 years of age, his first Grand Slam title. It has now been three decades since Miguel Ángel Jiménez had the ultimately propitious idea of working as a caddie on weekends to help supplement the family budget, a home with limited resources and many mouths to feed (seven brothers in all)..
He left school at 15, dedicated all his time to golf as a caddie and began hitting shots on the practice range. In 1982 he turned professional and three years later, after completing military conscription, now 21 years old, he focused seriously on competitive golf. A lover of fast cars, cigars and fine wine, today the 50-year-old Málaga- born golfer is in better form than ever. This is highlighted by the fact that, since turning 40, he has won 14 of his 21 European Tour career titles.
During his successful appearance in the most recent US Masters, he eventually finished fourth, two shots behind the winner, and equalled the best round (66) by a player aged 50 or over. Fred Couples had achieved the feat in 2010 (also at 50) and Ben Hogan in 1967 (54 years). Jiménez also equalled his best result in 15 appearances at August, having carded a 66 in the final round in 2010.
Just one week after his stunning performance in the Masters, Jiménez once again dazzled the world with his winning debut on the US Champions Tour. Making his first appearance in a seniors Tour event, he won by two shots from Bernhard Langer, who had won 19 times in seven years on the US seniors tour; while another “historic” star, Couples, was fourth.
Jiménez thus became the 18th player in history to win on his US seniors tour debut, and only the second Spanish champion, after José María Cañizares, who triumphed in the 2001 Toshiba Senior Classic.
And for the finishing touch, just as we were going to press, “Pisha” (as he is fondly known locally) did it again: winning a play-off for the Open de España title, played in May at the PGA Catalunya Resort.
AT HIS GOLF SCHOOL…
Miguel Ángel welcomes us to his eponymous golf school in Torremolinos, a key part of his ongoing commitment to returning to the sport everything that golf has given him over the years.
He arrives slightly late, because he has been tied up with the arrangements for his second marriage, to Austrian economist Susanne Styblo, to be held a few days later, and checking on his mother, who had suffered a minor medical problem. This gentleman of the game doesn’t stop for one moment: he is a real 50-year-old live wire.
Lately he has become a media favourite around the world of golf. The day before, a Canadian journalist had visited to interview him; this same morning, a Swede. And so on every day,with Jiménez handling it in stoic fashion during the brief periods he has between trips away, and between practice sessions – “because hard work is the foundation of everything. You’ve got to break stones every day.”
If he doesn’t have a club in his hands, for Miguel Ángel it’s like he’s missing something; he feels like he’s wasting time.
- Recently you’ve been honoured with the provincial Málaga Gold Medal, and you enjoy widespread recognition throughout Andalucía. Do you feel like a prophet in your own land?
- Well, all recognition makes you feel good, no? I’ve been travelling around the world for 26 years, and everyone likes it when they are recognised for things while they are still alive, not when they’ve kicked the bucket – which is what normally happens.
No-one is a prophet in their own land, although I’ve won a couple of times in Andalucía, and if they pay you a few tributes you feel good, of course. It’s the fruits you reap for the work of a lifetime.
- Over the past few months you’ve become the cool guy throughout the golf world, especially after your performance in the Masters…
- I’ve been playing very good golf the past 15 years. They’ve been the best of my career. And lately, around the age of 50, it’s true that things have gone very well: I won in Hong Kong towards the end of last year, I won on my senior tour debut, I was fourth in the Masters… In short, I’m still resisting the passage of time: 30-something in the world rankings, it’s true that I’m enjoying one of the most wonderful moments of my life.
- The whole international press is chasing you…
- Yes, because the truth is it’s atypical: it’s not normal, at my age, to be playing like I’m 10 years younger.
- Improving with time, like a good wine…
- Good wines improve with time until, like everything, they reach a point when they can’t improve any more and start to turn sour. I hope I haven’t reached that point yet. I’m still seeking perfection and still learning.
- For most golfers, turning 50 is a drastic change of cycle, but it doesn’t seem to be for you…
- Normally, when golfers turn 50 they are no longer competitive on the main tour, and for the last three or four years before reaching that age they are only thinking about getting there so they can start again at their peak on the senior tour, where they arrive as the youngsters. I’ve arrived from the main tour in good form, in a good position and, for the moment, 100 per cent effective: I’ve played one tournament and I’ve won. What more can you ask for?
- Did you feel you could have won the Masters?
- I did have that feeling, bearing in mind how well I was playing all week, at least that I would be there battling for the title. I was hitting the ball very well, playing well, with a very good dynamic and the mind well focused. Everything in its right place, which is what you need in the Masters…
- It would have been the culmination of an impressive career…
- It would have been amazing – although I’m still hopeful of winning a major.
In fact, I’m qualified for all the remaining ones. I’ve just played in one where I was close, and there are still more for me to continue causing trouble.
- In addition to the delight of winning, what other feelings did you have competing for the first time on the Senior Tour?
- I’ve had a US Tour card for 14 or 15 years, and I played there for a couple of seasons, and now I’ve returned as if it was 14 years ago again. I see the same faces as then, the same people who at that time were older than me, and now that I find them again it’s like going back through time.
It’s been a very good feeling. Everyone was very happy that I was playing there, because a bit of fresh air is good for the tour, for the sponsors, for television… I was received very well and I’m very satisfied.
- The Hong Kong situation, with four victories, is unique. They should add your name to the tournament title…
- I really like the Hong Kong course; I identify well with it. You have to play a lot with the ball, move it well, and that is perfect for my game.
- One of your main objectives this year is to play in the Ryder Cup. What other goals do you have?
- Playing in the Ryder Cup is my main priority, so I’m not going to compete any more on the senior tour until the British Senior Open, which is played straight after the (British) Open Championship. My aim is to be part of the Ryder Cup team, and to that end I have to play on the main tour. Later, we’ll see how we finish the year and how we are in the world rankings.
I’ll also see how I begin the new season, and then make a decision, because in 2016 it’s the Olympic Games and if I remain in a good position maybe I’ll make another sacrifice and play in the Olympics (he says this in an ironic tone). The truth is I would love to be an Olympian. I’m just going to let time make decisions for me.
- You give the impression that you might be slightly different compared with the other younger golfers, who are very gymnasium-focused, very athletic, while you don’t give up your cigars, your fine wines… It seems as though you like more of the “good life” than hard practice, but no doubt your success hasn’t been gifted to you, that behind it all there is ongoing hard work?
- Of course. At 50 I’m not going to change my physique, or anything like that, and neither am I going to stop enjoying the things I like, but smoking, drinking and eating don’t lead you anywhere. Afterwards, you have to do some serious and constant work. I get up and go to the gym, but I’m not going to be there for 24 hours. I have to do some maintenance work, to continue stretching, a bit of weight-lifting, but not too much because I don’t want to change my body form or injure myself by overdoing it. Then hit balls, and more balls. Achieving success is down to hard work. You’ve got to break stones every day.
When I began on the tour 26 years ago, players didn’t train like they do now – it was all more about technique. Now there’s more strength, more power: it’s modern golf, and we all have to adapt to that to some extent.
- What do you think about the nickname they’ve given you in the United States: “the most interesting main in golf”?
- There are always people keen to give names to things, and fair enough: it doesn’t bother me – I like it.
- Even though he is still number one in the world rankings (at the time of going to press), the margin to his closest challengers, Scott and Stenson, is narrow, barely a few tenths of a point. Do you believe that Tiger Woods’ reign is about to come to an end, or will we see him around for some time yet?
- How could I say that Tiger’s era is coming to an end when he’s only thirty-something and I’m 50? You shouldn’t kill off anyone prematurely. He’s an incredible golfer, and at the moment the only one on earth who can break Nicklaus’s record when it comes to majors. You have to respect him. No-one should think that a player of his category is going to lose his way from one night to the next day.
Do you find it hard to travel nearly every week?
- What I like doing is what I do – competing – and that means I have to travel. Although it is true that it’s a bit hard at times, because it’s been many years travelling around the world, but that’s what I do, it’s what I enjoy, and it’s what I live from.
- Have you lost the urge to continue organising tournaments?
- Continue organising tournaments? Bearing in mind how appreciative they are? They can stick it…
If they want to organise tournaments I’m happy to do so, but they can come along with the bread and butter up front, because I’ve lost a lot of money and people have a real cheek (he doesn’t want to specify who, but it’s understood). At the last Open de Andalucía an institutional sponsor fell through days before the tournament, when everything was agreed, and later they said no. Everything was already set up and Miguel Ángel Jiménez only has one word, his word, and that’s why we went ahead with the tournament, but not again.
I’m willing to do everything for my home land, to do things here, but those people who are in charge of tourist and economic policies don’t realise that, thanks to golf, we still live on the Costa del Sol/Costa del Golf. If we aren’t able to have a permanent tournament, to use it for promotional purposes, and organise fairs, invite tour operators and do a thousand other things, then they’re just blind. They should do some other job.