ST ANDREWS - Miguel Angel Jimenez stood on the first tee on the Old Course at St Andrews on a sunny, breezy and chilly autumn day yesterday with his South African caddie Cliffie Botha at his side, carefully checking that all was well inside the Spaniard’s huge golf bag.
The charismatic 54-year-old with the pony tail and magical golf game was looking as pleased with himself as any man ever could.
To say Jimenez is comfortable in his own skin is an understatement in the extreme. He just oozes confidence. Mr Cool.
The big cigar was in place, the trademark two-tone golf shoes seemingly shinier than ever along with the blue-tinted sun shades.
He was looking forward to a practice round ahead of this week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on the hallowed turf where just two months previously he had sensationally outgunned Bernhard Langer to win the Senior Open Championship (his second senior major this year after winning The Tradition in the United States).
“You know, people see Miguel as this fun-loving guy who smokes cigars, drinks loads of red wine and - well - is this total party animal,” says Botha, who has been with Jimenez for six years and for nine wins, three on the regular tour and six on the senior tour.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, he does enjoy life to the full, but I can tell you no one works harder than him, not only on his game, but also in the gym where he’s at pretty much every morning and every evening.
“Seriously, he’s more supple than guys half his age.”
The first tee at St Andrews, a public course, is practically in the middle of town, and at any one time there is invariably a motley bunch of townspeople watching you hit.
This is golf’s hallowed ground, after all, and for most of us - as knee-buckling experiences go - it doesn’t get more scary than this.
“Please God, don’t let me duff it,” is a common cry.
George Bush Sr once said that in the early days of Czechoslovakian freedom, he spoke before one million people in Wenceslas Square with his knees steady and his pulse regular.
But on the Old Course’s first tee for the first time, he was in a flat spin, his palms sweaty and his pulse racing.
Anyway, back to Jimenez who - no problem with nerves - ripped his drive down the fairway and then, with his approach to the green at this par-four, skilfully rode the wind with an exquisite shot over the Swilken Burn. Birdie on its way.
I sidled up to this shotmaker supreme, and asked him if he felt he had any chance of a win this week to complete an Old Course double inside two months - the Senior Open and now the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship against the young bloods.
“Of course, of course,” he replied in his broken English. “I’m hitting beautiful shots. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could win.”
Botha nodded in agreement and just smiled. This South African bag-man knows more than any other just how good and how determined Jimenez is.
“I am here with the sun shining, I’m surrounded by friends and family. I finish my round, I have my shower. I ask the people where the best restaurant is. Tonight I will eat good food, drink some red wine, smoke a good cigar. This is my way,” Jimenez said.
When asked about whether he feared hitting into the water on a particular hole, Jimenez simply said: “My friend, water is for fish.”