FERRARI golfing class

8 Feb

High-performance Jiménez triumphs in Dubai

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Dual role as promoter of Open de Andalucía at Aloha in 2008 (Photo: Josele Sánchez)


IT WAS TOWARDS the end of 2003 and the Coast’s favourite golfing son, Miguel Ángel Jiménez, was mingling with guests at a presentation lunch in the La Quinta clubhouse. He stopped to chat with a group of local journalists, including yours truly, who noted that the golfer’s 40th birthday was coming up (5 January) and made some jocular remark about getting old (he himself having passed the milestone several years before). Feigning indignation, Jiménez retorted, “Old? What do you mean – not at all!”, winked and moved on to a less incriminatory group.

Now, six years later, the man nicknamed The Mechanic”, because of his love of high-performance cars (including his own red Ferrari), has just racked up his 16th European Tour win, the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, beating 2009 European number one Lee Westwood in a three-hole play-off. Incredibly, nine of those wins have been achieved since he turned 40.

His latest triumph also made him the oldest player to win on the Tour since Mark O’Meara was also victorious in Dubai in 2004, at 47. He moved to fourth on the order of merit, equalling his highest career end-of-season position: 2008; 2004, when he won four times; 1999, when he became the first and only Spaniard to win the Volvo Masters; and 1998.

“Like a good wine, with age, I get better and better,” he said after his first victory since the 2008 BMW PGA Championship – also his finest win to date.

“I feel comfortable on the golf course – that is key. I am not 25 or 30, I have just turned 46, but I’m still healthy and still strong. Not like I was when I was 25, but still strong and I can still play the ball. And, if I feel happy and can focus, then you can win.”

One of the game’s most flamboyant characters, with his ponytail and love of fine wines, hearty Spanish cuisine and Havana cigars, he is now in his 22nd year on the Tour.

Back in December 1994, six years after making his debut, he spoke to this same correspondent in an interview for Costagolf magazine – reprinted here in a fascinating trip down memory lane.

Olazábal, Lara, Fdez-Castaño, Jiménez, García - Martín Gutiérrez

At the final Volvo Masters in 2008: José María Olazábal, José Manuel Lara, Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño, Miguel Angel Jiménez, Sergio García (Photo: Martin Gutiérrez)

WHEN MIGUEL ÁNGEL JIMÉNEZ finished fifth on last year’s European Tour Order of Merit (1994), he joined an elite group of Spanish golfers.

Severiano Ballesteros, of course, has finished number one in Europe a record six times, been second on two occasions, and also secured number three position three times.

Fellow major championship winner José María Olazábal was second in his rookie season (1986).

Manuel Piñero, now based at La Quinta, was both fourth and fifth twice from 1976 to 1982.

La Duquesa’s José María Cañizares finished fourth on the 1983 Order of Merit.

They are the only Spanish players to have gained top five honours on the money list. Now, the unassuming 31-year-old from Churriana has joined them and he could be on the threshold of consolidating his status among the top league of the Tour when he gains the invaluable experience this year of competing in his first major championship, the US Masters.

Miguel Angel Jiménez was born in Churriana (Málaga) on January 5, 1964. His mother was from Málaga and his late father, a builder’s labourer, was originally from Madrid. They had seven sons (no daughters), two of whom were to become pros (Juan, his older brother by 12 years, is the head pro at Torrequebrada and Miguel Angel’s coaching mentor), three low-handicap golfers and the other two also “sports-minded”.

Miguel Angel took up golf as a 15-year-old, while working as a caddie and hitting balls on the Torrequebrada practice ground. He turned pro in 1982, aged 18 years, completed his obligatory military service in 1985, then focused on golf as a pro.

While competing on the satellite circuits in such countries as Italy, Switzerland and France he unsuccessfully attempted to gain his Tour card at three Qualifying Schools (1985-86-87) before finally securing it in 1988, the same year he won the Open de Lyon on the satellite (now Challenge) tour. His victories in Spain earlier had included the under-25 national championship in 1985 and the Andalucian PGA Championship.

In an interview at the Torrequebrada club before he presented the trophies in the annual junior tournament to which he gives his name, Miguel Angel Jiménez spoke to Costagolf:

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Honoured by Severiano Ballesteros

Who would you like to play with in your first appearance in the US Masters?

I don’t mind; I just want to play at Augusta.

You played with Jack Nicklaus and Severiano Ballesteros in the first two rounds of the 1994 Open de Andalucía in Montecastillo. Did that have an influence on your season?

You always learn something; every day you learn something playing golf. It depends directly on you.

During a visit last year to the Alhaurín club he designed, Seve said he admired your aggressiveness. That can produce bogeys as well as birdies, however. Have you ever thought of softening your attacking attitude?

No. I play golf how I feel. If I feel aggressive that’s how I play. If I see the possibility of reaching the green, I go for it. I prefer this to leaving myself short. What I wouldn’t like is to have not given it a chance when I thought I should have. Up to now it hasn’t gone wrong playing this way. You’ve got to say, “·At least I tried!”

A feature of your two wins is that they were against strong fields (1992 Belgian Open and 1994 Dutch Open). Does this inspire you more than usual?

No, it is simply that you feel good, sure within yourself, and the truth is that in those two tournaments I played well. And not only that: my putter, which has always been my worst club, has been working this season, with a very good putting average. Before, I didn’t putt well, but now I have enough confidence.

There have been some top pros coming out of Churriana

Yes, there have been many that are now spread out along the Coast: Balbuena, Ocaña, Paco Navarro, my brother, Miguel Navarro, Mangas, Sebastian. If it’s true that few shone before it’s because in that era they had little support; indeed, the circumstances were against them. They almost couldn’t practise because of the risk of losing their jobs, and so many good players were lost. If they saw you on the practice ground with the club of a client they sent you home. It was not a problem for me, though. From a decade before me, the era of my brother, it eased a little.

How do you feel about the fact the profession of caddie is now almost extinct?

Now you have to become an amateur; it’s a much more logical course. You start by playing championships, then try to get your handicap down. What you’ve got to do is practise. The profession of caddie now doesn’t exist because amateurs don’t have caddies. Nevertheless, with the same number of caddies there were before, there would be many more players because now the courses are more open about letting you play and practise. There are more juniors now because the federations support them much more. It is junior golf that should be developed. Going from caddie to professional is now prehistoric. There are maybe only a couple of clubs in Spain where you have your caddie and he doesn’t move.

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With TV presenter Lorenzo Mila

In Spain there are still a lot of people who believe golf is elite…

In general they are wrong. Golf is neither as expensive as people believe nor as accessible as others pretend. What is certain is that golf has to become more popular. The cost of maintaining a golf course has to be reduced considerably. People forget that a golf course does not necessarily have to be green. In a majority of cases they are kept irrigated and maintained because of the surrounding houses that have to be sold.

What activities do you participate in yourself to promote golf?

I organise a children’s and a juniors’ championship every year. Every year there are more and more children playing and that is very important. I like watching the youngsters play. In the group I organise we have 85 young golfers. For next year we have players in reserve so I hope to expand the tournament. What I want, however, is for anyone to cone along; I want the best.

What are your best memories of 1994?

The win in Holland, because I had been among the leaders so many times before. Another great memory is the albatross at Valderrama.

Apart from golf, do you play any other sports?

When I have time I go jogging and bicycle riding and do stretching exercises.

How difficult is it to maintain your rhythm when you are playing on four continents?

Often I return to Spain extremely tired. I don’t think I’ll play Morocco or South Africa.

In the Volvo Masters last year you commented that you were not obsessed by the Ryder Cup like some other players…

I don’t believe you should be obsessed by anything. The Ryder Cup is a championship in which everyone wants to play, and I do as well, but I don’t want to be obsessed about it because it hinders your concentration. I found that out in 1993, doing horrible things on the golf course. I thought it wouldn’t affect me but it did, though I don’t want to give that as an excuse for not having such a good year in 1993. We’ll see how I go in 1995; maybe I’ll suffer another lapse in form. The best thing to do is to play week by week and, if I manage to play in the Ryder Cup, great, because it is one of my dreams. If I don’t play, well what can I do! There are many players who would like to take part. (He went on to compete in the 1999, 2004 and 2008 Ryder Cups.)

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As promoter of the 2009 Open de Andalucía (Photo: Jorge Andréu)

Another of your dreams is to play in the US majors…

Yes, but that is different because if you don’t make it one year you can the next. It is different with a tournament such as the Ryder Cup because it is so very important and the press plays it up so much. This doesn’t happen in the Masters; my dream is just to play in it, unlike the Ryder Cup, which is why you can become obsessed. Nevertheless, the Ryder Cup is a great championship and it is just as important to win it as it is to win a major. What inspires you is: if you are member of the Ryder Cup team, you want to win; if you are playing in a major, you want to win. You’ve got to maintain your goals all the time and fight every day to achieve them.

Which of the majors do you think you could win (this) year?

Any of them.

How do you like to relax away from the golf course?

I don’t have a lot of spare time but now (end of 1994) I’m going to go to Albacete with some friends and rest. It is also my wife’s birthday on the 31st and mine on the fifth, as well as our fourth wedding anniversary (at the time his wife, Monserrat, was five months pregnant with their first child).

Apart from golf what sports do you follow?

I’m a great fan of basketball, especially Madrid. However, I’m a little disconnected from other sports because I don’t have the time to watch them.

Will the arrival of a child prompt you to alter your schedule?

Everything depends on how my body holds up and how the year develops. In any event I will try to come home more often.

What do your consider yourself first, Malagueño or Andaluz?

It’s not that important. I’m everything: Churrianero, Malagueño, Andaluz, Español, European, of the world.

What have you asked for from the Three Kings?

My wish for this new year and all the others that come is peace in the world.

And golf-wise, what would you seek, for both you and the youngsters playing golf?

Public golf courses, throughout Spain, because it is the only way to develop golf. And for me? I hope it is not as bad a year as this past one has been good.

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Winner of 1999 Volvo Masters at  Montecastillo (Jerez)

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