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Miguel Angel Jimenez: The World's Most Interesting Golfer

Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez enjoys cigars, wine and winning golf tournaments, not necessarily in that order
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Joe Mantegna, July/August 2011

Hitting on the terrace of the Doral Country Club in Miami, a demitasse of espresso in one hand, a Vegas Robaina cigar in the other, Miguel Angel Jimenez could have been another spectator at the Cadillac World Golf Championship event. With his graying red ponytail and goatee, his little pot belly, his air of ethereal calm accentuated by the faint haze of smoke, the 47-year-old Spaniard struck a pose that belied the fire within—a fire that burns for golf, a fire that burns for life.

In the era of flat bellies and distant personalities, in the era defined by Tiger Woods, fitness trailers and prize money fit for a king, Miguel Angel Jimenez stands as his own man. Sure, he’ll hit balls before he plays. But he might also have a glass of wine. Sure, he’ll putt and chip. But he will certainly have a cup or two of espresso. Sure, he’s determined to be the best player he can be (with 18 European Tour victories), but he will also make sure he takes the time to savor his life.

European super agent Andrew “Chubby” Chandler has seen all the great ones of the last four decades. He represents Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington and the blossoming Rory McIlroy. He does not represent Jimenez, but he unabashedly admires him.

“He’s a man of his own and everyone appreciates him,” says Chandler. “He lives his life and plays the game the way he wants to. He never rushes anything, he savors everything. He just inhales life, and he exudes it. I’ve never known someone more comfortable in his own skin than Miguel.”

Between puffs and sips on the Doral terrace, Jimenez sums up his world: “I give all my life to golf, and golf gives me all my life.”

To watch Jimenez play golf, to watch him connect with other players, to watch him acknowledge his fans, is to see a man who savors what he is doing. His long, sweeping, fluid swing, his easy, deliberate stride, his smile that brings an extra crease to his well-weathered face all speak of a man who will stop to smell the roses.

“It is important, no, to love what you are doing?” asks Jimenez. “It is important to enjoy the things that life brings you. I always know that when I start to play golf, that this is what I would like to do. I become good enough to be successful and have many good things for my life.”

Right then, Jimenez picks up the reporter’s tape recorder from the table and holds it close to his mouth, like a microphone: “I just want to say that golf is a beautiful game and it has given me a beautiful life.”

These passionate words are typical from a man who lives the game and doesn’t just play it, who lives his life and doesn’t merely walk through it. And the words come from a man who knows how lucky he is to be doing what loves.

Jimenez is one of seven brothers born to a modest family in Malaga, Spain. His father was a mason and his mother had her hands full with so many boys. His oldest brother Juan caught the golf bug by caddying to make money, and eventually became a teaching professional at the Torrequebrada club. Juan needed extra caddies and the 15-year-old Miguel, having dropped out of school, volunteered. It wasn’t the golf that interested Miguel, it was the pesetas.

Soon he was coming back often for the pesetas, and for something more. The game was starting to creep into his heart, and the older caddies were teaching him to hit balls, out of sight of the club members who frowned on them doing anything but carrying their bags. The 1979 Spanish Open was held at Torrequebrada and Miguel was able to get a bag and thus get a close-up view of the magnificent Spaniard Seve Ballesteros and of the talented Scotsmen Sandy Lyle and Sam Torrance.
“After I finished the army, my mandatory duty, I was 21. I knew that I wanted to play golf,” says Jimenez. “I always like to compete, right from the beginning when I was caddying at 15. Seve was already a winner when I started to play golf. He’s nearly seven years older than me. He won his first major (1979) the year I really started to play. He become a great player, it was very good to see.”

Miguel Angel Jimenez wasn’t Seve Ballesteros, however. He wasn’t a prodigy. After turning professional in 1982 it took him a while to finally reach the European Tour in 1988, to win his first tournament in 1992, to become a European star with four victories in 2004. All along, he had no doubt where he was heading and what he wanted—a life built around the game. And it would be a complete life, full of rich details.

In a sense, Miguel has become the perfect representation of the European Tour, which still has a more idiosyncratic atmosphere than its big brother, the PGA Tour, in the United States. He’s a true individual, with a very distinct character but that fits in well in Europe. He thinks nothing about having a glass of wine before he goes out to play. He will surely have wine at dinner and maybe a nice brandy or whisky.

He always enjoyed wine, but once becoming successful he could indulge in it, especially his much beloved Riojas (“They should call me Miguel Angel Rioja!”). He went from cigarettes to cigars, gaining a taste for Cubans. His fondness for cars (he worked in an auto service shop for a few months, earning him the Tour nickname “The Mechanic”) could now be translated to ownership.

Being a very proud Andalucian, you just had to figure his taste in wines would center around the Spanish greats, especially those from Rioja. Among his collection are Cirsion, Ardanza, Torre Muga, Marques de Riscal and Roda. He also has a number of wines from Ribera del Duero—Pesquera, Protos, Vegas Sicilia, Emilio Moro, Abadia Retuerta and Mauro.

Of course he also enjoys a glass of fino sherry and a number of rums including Barcelo Imperial, Brugal and Zacapa. A Bushmills 1608 Irish whiskey or a Lagavulin 16-Year-Old single malt Scotch whisky will do him quite well. “The Lagavulin is nice and smoky, goes great with a cigar,” says Jimenez, relishing the words in the manner he would relish the whisky and the cigar.

Then there are the cigars. Ah, yes, the cigars. He usually smokes four or five a day. He will smoke cigars during practice rounds and pro-ams, but he does not, he is careful to say, smoke during an official round. But you can bet a box of Montecristos that he will have one just before he tees off and just after he finishes, often lighting up before he signs his scorecard. He is such a fan of the Cuban cigars that he attended the 2010 Festival del Habanos.

“I love Cuban cigars. They have that spiciness and sweetness that are missing from some others,” he says. “One day at the festival I smoked nine cigars and I feel nothing in my throat. That is good cigars, no?”

He likes his cigars big and juicy, generally a 52 to 56 ring. His favorite is the Siglo VI and he regularly enjoys the Cohiba Behike, but really any Cuban cigar will do. He figures he has about 400 cigars in his humidors, and he can’t quash a wry grin when saying that he gets them at a bargain rate in Spain.

“It is relaxing to enjoy a good wine, a cigar, good food, a whisky,” he says. “You have to take the time to enjoy them. You cannot enjoy them if you rush them, no? You cannot enjoy life if you rush.”

Says Thomas Bjorn, the Danish European Tour veteran: “Miguel enjoys everything about the lifestyle of the game, and that’s very important. Traveling as much as we do, eating out as much as we do, being away from a steady home life, Miguel embraces it all and enjoys himself.”

Then there’s his Ferrari. Perhaps nothing gives him quite so much pleasure as a spin in his red 1999 Ferrari 550 Maranello which he will drive to all the tournaments in Spain. “I love this car,” he says, but nowadays he can’t really live up to his nickname. He often worked on his own cars back in the 1980s, but as they became more sophisticated, his mechanical skills didn’t keep pace. “I really can’t work on this now myself,” he says. “The cars these days, they are all electronic. I really can’t be The Mechanic.”

You must know, too, that Jimenez is an aficionado of good shoes. He has his golf shoes and his street shoes custom made by Gigi Nebuloni, a small, family-owned business in Milan. There is nothing that quite stimulates his comfort hormones more than slipping on a pair of Nebuloni shoes. He has about 50 pairs of the golf shoes alone, and they stand out on the Tour as classics now that some form of cross-trainers has become vogue.

“These are pure leather, very soft,” says Jimenez, who conditions them with horse fat. “I always liked very good shoes. I have been with them 11 years now. You take them from the box and they feel so good right away. I don’t like tennis shoes, rubber shoes. I always liked proper shoes, leather shoes.”

ith all these embellishments of the good life available to him, Jimenez remains passionately devoted to the game. His European Tour career might not be considered stellar but is certainly by any measure successful. His biggest victory was the 2008 BMW PGA Championship. His 2010 season was a sparkler with wins in the Omega European Masters, the Alstom Open de France and the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. He has not won in the United States but has played in several major championships and World Championship Golf events. He finished second in the 2000 U.S. Open and third in the 2001 British Open.

Then there is the Ryder Cup, central to his golf psyche.

“It is very important to me to try to play the Ryder Cup. It is a magnificent tournament to me, it is tremendously exciting,” says Jimenez, his voice rising ever so slightly. “It’s the heaven of golf. You need to be inside my skin to know what is going on there.”

Appropriately, his connection with the Ryder Cup came in Spain when European captain Seve Ballesteros asked him to be a vice-captain for the matches at Valderrama. He was deeply honored and humbled to be chosen by Spain’s greatest player, and he soon learned that he would be deeply moved by the experience, so much so that he would give it his all to compete.

He played on the 1999, 2004 and 2008 teams with limited success and was not particularly happy that he lost all three of his singles matches. He had also not qualified for a Ryder Cup that had been played in Europe, so he doubled his efforts to qualify for the 2010 team, knowing that it was unlikely that captain Colin Montgomerie would make him a wildcard selection if he didn’t qualify on points.

When Peter Hanson won the Czech Open in August, he earned enough points to put Jimenez’s Ryder Cup position in jeopardy. So Jimenez was forced to make a difficult, wrenching decision. He had committed himself the last week of August to attending the wedding of his nephew Fernando, who was not just a beloved family member but also a promoter of the Andalucian Open, a tournament that is chiefly supported by Jimenez himself. Jimenez chose to bypass the wedding for the Johnnie Walker Championship that week so he could earn points to make the team. He collected enough points at the Johnnie Walker to assure his place, and had Fernando and his new bride as his guests in Wales at Celtic Manor that week.

Europe’s victory over the United States was also Jimenez’s finest showing in the Ryder Cup. Jimenez won two points, one in the fourball paired with Peter Hanson and one in the singles, trouncing the long-hitting Bubba Watson 4 and 3.

Jimenez’s presence on the team was at once inspiring and calming. “It was great to have someone with that sense of calmness, with that experience,” says Germany’s rising star Martin Kaymer. “You just feel good when you are around Miguel.

Everyone does. He’s larger than life and he adds that to everything he does.”

“Miguel is a very competitive player as everyone knows,” says Chubby Chandler. “He also brings the sense of calmness you need in that atmosphere. He won’t get rattled and he won’t let anyone else get rattled. He’s the perfect teammate in every aspect.”

(By the way, just to show that Jimenez isn’t always so calm about things, he broke his putter over his knee on the 15th hole of a European Tour event in Bahrain this year, then went on to make three birdies putting with his lob wedge for a 65.)

The Ryder Cup makes Jimenez tingle. “The most important thing is to be a part of it,” says Jimenez. “I want to win, I want Europe to win, of course. But the most important thing is that the game of golf wins. That is how it should be. It’s all about the game that we love. Nobody loses there. It is the game of golf that wins.”

Tom Lehman, the 2006 Ryder Cup captain, has been around Jimenez mostly in that supercharged setting. As a key player for the United States, and a three-time victor in the pressure-packed position of leadoff singles player, Lehman knows the Ryder Cup cauldron intimately. So he was mightily impressed by what he saw of Jimenez before his singles match against Watson.

“At the Ryder Cup in Wales there was a group of English guys dressed up like him with ponytails. It was the day of the singles and that’s the day that all the players are just hoping not to puke,” says Lehman. “So I’m near them when Miguel comes along and they ask me if I can ask Miguel if he  would take a picture with them. Miguel comes right over, I take a picture with my iPhone and I e-mail it to each of them. Now how many guys would have ever done that in that situation. Miguel really engages the fans.”

And it’s not just what Jimenez does on the course that impresses Lehman. “He’s always the person who will walk across the room to say hello,” says Lehman. “Not just once, but always. That says something about a person.”

It says a lot about a person, a professional golfer, that he would be willing to dig into his own pocket to make sure a golf tournament goes on, and in the proper manner. That is what Jimenez has been doing for the Open de Andalucia.

“I love my country, I love my place and I feel golf is part of the economy of Andalucia and of Malaga,” he says. “I feel that the people of this place deserve a special tournament. This is my fifth year now that I promote, and these are difficult times to get money from the companies. For the last couple of years there hasn’t been that much money from sponsors, so to cover expenses I’ve had to go into my pocket. I am very loyal to what I am doing. I’m doing something for my place.” 

He will always call Malaga home where his teenage sons Miguel Angel and Victor share time with him and their mother, from whom Jimenez is divorced. He doesn’t know if his sons will take up golf seriously and would be pleased if they continued their education in a manner in which he did not. Still, he wants them to determine their own destinies, as he determined his.

Though at a rather advanced age now, he remains determined to be among the world’s best, and to keep his worldly view of life. After the first round of British Open at Turnberry in 2009 in which he led with a 64, the best score of his career, Jimenez was asked what he was thinking. “That it would be nice to have a little whisky,” he replied.

When it comes to golf and to life, Miguel Angel Jimenez will stay thirsty, my friends.

“He has the most-interesting-man-in-the-world look and mentality,” says Tom Lehman.

Jeff Williams is a contributing editor for Cigar Aficionado.

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