Flags from 15 countries flapped in brisk mountain air, and beneath them walked 63 players who could have been cut from the same mold. Be they American or Japanese, Irish or Australian, German or Italian, they carried themselves lean and fit, as if headed to a GQ photo shoot, offering fluid swings and impeccable posture and focus.
Then there was the other guy, he of the ponytail and cigar, the slight paunch, and the warmup routine that made you wonder if he weren’t preparing for a game of Twister, what with the way he took clubs back and contorted his upper body.
It was the 13th edition of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, but so far as unmatched play goes, the winner already had been decided in a rout.
Take a bow, Miguel Angel Jimenez.
He represents Spain, but stretch the picture a little bit. He represents so many of us who are what we are and strive to be happy with that – even on those days when we come up short.
So he lost in the quarterfinals to Martin Kaymer?
Jimenez shrugged, then looked you in the eye, as if to calm your disappointment for him.
“We are humans,” he said. “We are not machines. It is the first thing you have to learn in this life.”
During a week in which eight of the final 16 players were younger than 30, when a 17-year-old won twice, when a 26-year-old became the world’s No. 1, when neon green and electric pink shirts and pants were more prominent than cacti . . . Jimenez – at 47 the oldest in the field – provided a reminder that being comfortable in one’s own skin is a beautiful thing.
Should you not know anything about Jimenez and you saw him walk to the first tee of your club, two things would hit you. One, you might think he’s the Dos Equis guy and remind you to “stay thirsty, my friends.”
Two, you’d probably want to give him two a side.
Hours later, after having shot 64 and taken you for all you might have wagered, Jimenez might invite you to lunch, because everyone needs to know when to shut off and focus on what life has to offer us . . . and who better to learn from than the Spaniard?
Asked about Jimenez, a longtime PGA European Tour official smiled and explained that the man was the definition of low maintenance. When he travels to a big tournament, he asks for just three things: “Extra virgin olive oil, good Cubans (cigars) and Marques de Riscal.”
Sounds like a wonderful way to travel, eh, Miguel?
He smiled and conceded that people seem to know that about him and appreciate him for it. That is good.
“I am myself. I don’t pretend to be anything else,” Jimenez said.
Matt Rollins and Chance Cozby know this up close and personal. Tour reps for Ping, Jimenez’s clubs of choice for years, they have seen the man’s humility.
“He creates a level of comfort,” Cozby said. “When you’re with him, he wants you there, and you feel that.”
Having been eliminated in the first round at this championship three years ago, Jimenez asked if he could tour the Ping factory in the Phoenix area. Rollins started walking Jimenez out to where the clubs are physically built when the Spaniard stopped, swept his arm over a room of about 10-15 workers and said, “Are these the people who build my clubs?”
Told they were, Jimenez promptly shook his hands with each one, introducing himself and thanking them “for making my clubs.”
That he has employed those clubs for nearly 30 years as a professional and won 18 times on the European Tour is cause for celebration, given that he has done it all with a homemade swing and remained true to himself.
“He has a great attitude, a good love for the game,” Luke Donald said. “He may not have the most classic swing, but he gets it done.”
Down four holes and seemingly out against Kaymer, Jimenez won the 15th with a birdie, the 16th and 17th with pars, and shockingly delivered the match to the 18th hole. Alas, the magical comeback against the world’s best was not to be, so when Jimenez failed to pitch in for birdie, he embraced his Ryder Cup teammate and marched up the hill toward the clubhouse. It was time to extinguish the competitive fire that burned within and embrace the love of life that envelopes him.
Until his next golf challenge, the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, Jimenez was going to visit a friend in the Dominican Republic, where they would roll cigars, savor good food and sip fine wine.
As himself, of course, because “I wouldn’t want to be anything else.”