The Most Interesting Men In The World
Here are three players, one who has always been comfortable in his skin, one who came to be comfortable in his skin, and one who is just trying on his skin for the first time
'HAPPINESS IS FROM THE SOUL'Looking at both of them from the rear, Miguel Angel Jimenez is a dead ringer for Secretariat, whose chestnut ponytail was all that poor Sham ever got to see of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Alternately called The Mechanic and The Most Interesting Man in the World, Miguel is one of the few golfers in history known to exercise, and he's the only one famous for his calisthenics. First you put your two knees close up tight, then you sway 'em to the left and sway 'em to the right, you step around the floor kind of nice and light, and then you twist around and twist around with all your might. You stretch your lovin' arms straight out in space, then you do the Eagle Rock with style and grace. Swing your left foot out and bring it back. That's what I call ballin' the jack.
Other things he enjoys: red wine, cigars and Ferraris.
A diminutive man with a diminutive potbelly, Miguel isn't what you would call handsome. In fact, the players say he has a face like a half-chewed caramel. But he is attractive in the ways that matter. In those ways, he is beautiful.
Born in Malaga on Spain's southern coast (in the vicinity of Gibraltar and the shimmering golf course Valderrama), Jimenez doesn't remember ever seeing the George Segal-Glenda Jackson movie "A Touch of Class," which was shot there. But he could have been the boy caddie who plays along with Segal, giving him two a side and bringing an army of brothers to bet against the boss. Miguel is the fifth of seven brothers. The first few taught him golf.
"My parents taught me the rest," he says. "If you ask why I'm a comfortable-looking man, maybe it's because I come from a nice family. Poor, but always happy. Money helps you live better, but happiness is from the soul. Playing golf has been my job and my joy. Is there a luckier way to make a living?"
His territory is marked by a plaque at Valderrama commemorating the albatross he scored in the 1994 Volvo Masters on the signature 17th hole, just one of many modest monuments to The Mechanic's career. Besides being a steady winner in Europe, he has been top 10 in all four of the majors.
Tied with Ernie Els at the Pebble Beach U.S. Open in 2000, Jimenez shared second in the greatest golf tournament anyone ever played. But Els is better known for it. "That brings no stress to me at all," Miguel says. "There were two tournaments, you know. Ernie and I were first in the earthly one. [Tiger Woods was first in the galactic one.] And, when you are 15 shots back in second place, maybe it's just as well that only you know it. Still, I'm proud of Pebble. I feel proud of everything that has happened in my life."
He is hitting balls on the Ping practice range in Phoenix, trying to return to a swing speed of 110 miles per hour. A gizmo set up at his back is clocking him.
109.5. "Oh, no." 109.8. "Impossible." 109.9. "These half-a-century-old bones of mine." 111.1 (finally).
"Except I swung too hard," he says with a groan. "My ball is probably out-of-bounds. I'm dying to smoke a cigar."
Then he putts for a while in the Ping factory on an elevated rug that calculates impact angles (slight arc, strong arc, straight arc) on a screen.
"I don't care about any of that," he says. "All I want to do is make more putts. Is there a machine that can stop you from missing them on the low side? Wait a minute, the hole just moved. Am I centered right?"
He is the Most Centered Man in the World.
What would he have done had he not been such a marvelous golfer?
"If I had my wish, I would have driven race cars," he says. "I wouldn't mind. I like fast cars. But, of course, I wouldn't have had my wish. My father worked construction. He worked with bricks. Bricks would have been OK, I guess."
But bricks would not have delivered him to Switzerland.
"In 26 years, that's the only tournament I've never missed," he says. "For the wine, and the cigars, and the wine again, and all the people especially, all the friends." Miguel is a connoisseur of friendship.
His best friend in golf has been Jose Maria Olazabal.
"Big heart. Strong character. Heart, heart, heart. To play a practice round with Ollie every week for more than 20 years. Very nice."
And, of course, Seve Ballesteros was their godfather.
"I've stopped telling young players about Seve," Miguel says, "because I think they don't believe me."
It's his turn to ask a question: "Do you know what is better than winning a golf tournament? Anyway, what is more important to me than any tournament I've won?"
"To have played a few practice holes with Arnold Palmer. To have competed with Jack Nicklaus, the greatest golfer of all time. To have played golf with Gary Player and Tom Watson and Seve and Ollie and Langer and Els and Phil and Faldo and Tiger and Vijay and Norman -- don't let me forget anyone -- and Woosnam and Lyle and Price and Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington and Sergio and Couples and Crenshaw and Kite and Love and Rose and Scott -- please fill in the ones I'm leaving out -- and now the next generation, Rory McIlroy, Matteo Manassero. All the generations of my 50 years. I am so lucky."
He is the Most Perspicacious Man in the World.
In 2012, Jimenez crashed on a ski slope and had a tough rehabilitation. "I have only two or three years of golf left, I don't know. So I have to be prudent. But I love to ski. I love life.
Nicklaus skied in the middle of his career. He wanted to live life, too. Anything Jack did is OK for me to copy, yes?"
CHICKEN AND NOODLES TONIGHTThe night before he won his green jacket in 2009, Angel Cabrera was pushing a grocery cart around the Kroger store in Augusta and could hear his fellow shoppers murmuring, "There's that guy who's leading the Masters." Of course, he was more than just a guy. He was a U.S. Open champion. But, if they couldn't immediately place him, Angel didn't mind.
He smiled and told them something in Spanish that he knew they wouldn't understand, even if they spoke the language.
"When you grow up poorer than poor in Argentina," he said, "you don't own a refrigerator. So you have to shop for food every day. And, if your parents didn't want you, and your grandmother doesn't love you, you have to learn to cook for yourself."
Their befuddled looks pleased him. They didn't get it, and he was just as glad. Starting over in English, he said, "Birdies and pars tomorrow. Chicken and noodles tonight."
And they all laughed together, Cabrera most of all.
The broad-backed strongman with the accumulating paunch and the silver in his hair and the glitter in his eyes isn't nearly as well-known as he should be. He has read that he is an accomplished horseman ("I sat on a horse once. He kicked me off. I've never been on one since") and an enthusiastic dancer ("I prefer to listen to music than to move to it"), but the two-fisted boyhood is true enough (though the scars on his face, regularly described as battle wounds, actually came from soccer).