The Open 2019: Miguel Angel Jimenez returns as one of the last golfing treasures of his generation
Exclusive interview: Golf’s beloved rockstar is still burning bright ahead of his Open return
Miguel Angel Jimenez may be in rain-pattered Portrush, but the lithe old Spaniard began his warm-up routine ahead of his 24th Open Championship with the same array of hip thrusts and split stretches that have patterned one of golf’s longest careers. “I certainly don’t consider myself to be ‘long’ in years yet,” he retorts with a rattle of laughter.
The pony-tailed 55-year-old, who qualified for this year’s championship by winning the senior’s equivalent at St Andrews last summer, might be an elder statesman these days, but he is still armed with the zest for life that has made him one of the most beloved players on tour.
“I may have a few more wrinkles but I was always doing this,” he says. “But I am no different to when I was a young guy. I have not become a wine drinker or a smoker later in life… although I did switch from cigarettes to cigars. It is part of who I am and I will never change. I’m very comfortable in my own skin and I have always loved life. I’m not too proud to show it.”
The winner of 31 events since turning professional back in 1982, Jimenez is a beloved antique of the professional game. A type of oak-finished, whisky-sipping anti-culture to today’s chinoed, short-worded breed of professional. He is expressive, fiery, and an infamously dry joker – the type of character golf has come to miss during an era of bland PR spin.
“Aside from my family, my greatest love is probably my Ferrari 550 Maranello,” he roars. “I bought it for myself as a present in 1999 after winning the Volva Masters. She lives in Spain so when we are reunited – not often enough – it is always a special moment.”
One of seven brothers born to a “humble family with no money at all” in Malaga, Jimenez was inspired to take up the sport after working at the Spanish Open in 1979. And, after completing his military service at 20, he secured his pro card within four years of picking up a club for the first time. Yet, it was only as reached his 40s that he flourished into a finer vintage, winning 14 European Tour events and starring in four Ryder Cups within the stretch of a decade.
“I am still hitting the ball as far as I ever have,” he insists, debating his hopes ahead of The Open. He has not played in the event for the last two years, but finished in 18th on his last outing at Royal Troon in 2016. “I might not hit it as far as some of the young powerful players, but it’s not all about length. I have 14 clubs in the bag to use just like everyone else. I still have that special feeling that is impossible to describe when I walk onto the first tee. With that passion comes the desire to win. Without passion, there is no point.”
Despite now largely playing on the Champions Tour, Jimenez still visits the gym every morning and travels with a personal trainer. “My life is not only about wine and cigars as a lot of people might think,” he says.
“I wouldn’t say being in the gym is my favourite hobby, but it’s necessary. I don’t want to end my life on the golf course… or at least not yet,” he laughs. “Seriously, of course I will stop playing competitively at some point, but I am not considering it at the moment. I cannot imagine a life without golf.”
Unsurprisingly, he is a man of few regrets. “What is the point,” he says with envious simplicity, although he admits to still being pained by missing out on Ryder Cup captaincy. After serving as vice-captain on three occasions, he was overlooked in favour of Darren Clarke in 2016, and with Lee Westwood already in line to success Padraig Harrington, Jimenez accepts his time “has passed”.
“It’s a shame as it was something that I always dreamed of,” he says. “I really wanted it very much and I felt I had the experience to do a great job, as well as having given so many years of my life supporting the European Tour. But the decision went against me and that is that.”
Splendid and straight-talking, Jimenez is one of the last golfing treasures of his generation. It’s hard to envisage that we will ever be treated to another one like him again. Thankfully, he doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon. “I hope there is many more to come,” he says.
And with a few more lunges, a touch of showmanship and the swagger of an old rockstar, The Open beckons.