Miguel Angel Jimenez enjoys a fine cigar and a glass or five of Rioja, and he has the best pre-warmup stretching routine on the planet. He’s also leading the Open at the halfway mark. Jimenez, who teed off in perhaps the toughest conditions of the day, survived two brutally difficult tests of golf, posting an even-par 71 after opening with three-under 68 at Muirfield.
And no, despite pushing age 50 and living life as he sees fit, he is showing no signs of slowing done anytime soon. Because, well, why would he? It’s good to be the Most Interesting Man in the World.
With the best players in the world battling firm and fast conditions, not to mention breezy, most let the frustration get the best of them, but not Jimenez, who knows when to take his medicine and stay patient.
Don’t ask the Spaniard how he’s leading the Open at the ripe age of 49, either.
“I have not the right to do it? Only the young people can do it,” he said, laughing.
Clearly, age ain’t nothing but a number, especially in links golf. We remember what Tom Watson nearly did at Turnberry at the 2009 Open before losing to Stewart Cink in a playoff.
So, how does he do it? It’s not like he’s overly health-conscious.
“We keep playing golf and still get myself on the golf course, and that’s the secret,” he said. “Enjoy yourself what you do in life. That’s what I’m doing.”
Indeed, life’s too short, isn’t it?
While most of his fellow competitors could only handle so much frustration, Jimenez, who always looks, well, cool, feels relaxed. Pressure? What pressure? It’s only a major!
“I love what I’m doing,” he said. “I play golf. I do this for a living. And I’ve keep doing the same thing for 25 years. Probably sometime you say if I think maybe it’s too many years, but you’re wrong. It’s the only thing I like to do in my life. And then I enjoy myself. I keep elastic and flexible. I’m still training and walking and still able to shoot low and still here. Tomorrow if I cannot shoot low, then I will not be here, you don’t worry. I wouldn’t waste my time moving around the world (getting my ass kicked).”
With frustrated players walking off the course ranting about the firm greens and balls bouncing and roll all over the place, Jimenez is obviously in much better spirits because he’s leading the tournament, but he has everything in perspective.
“Fun is when you enjoy what you’re doing,” he said. “I play golf and I enjoy it. And it’s fun to me, no? Sometimes you can see me serious because of a situation, but having fun don’t mean that you are falling on the ground and start laughing. Having fun is doing what you like to do in your life. And I do it.”
When he decides to retire eventually, Jimenez could moonlight as a life coach.
But, seriously speaking, of course he feels pressure. How could he not? At some point, if you’re not nervous or stressed, it means perhaps you don’t care enough. We stress over things we work hard for and take pride in. Jimenez has just figured out how to handle it in a way that suits him best.
“The pressure always exists,” he said. “The pressure is there. When you are there, you feel the pressure because you are on top of the leaderboard. Maybe you have pressure, when you’re making your card. Maybe you make pressure because you’re pressuring yourself because you are doing something; you want to make pars, you want to make birdies. You need to feel that pressure, to feel intense, to feel competitive. If you’re not pressure, you don’t care, you’re not going to be here.”
For now, he is going to live in the moment and worry about dealing with it when the times comes.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” he said. “I’m going to go now, I’m going to hit some balls. My coach is waiting there. And I’m going to have a nice cigar. And when tomorrow is coming, when the sun is coming, I will deal with that thing.”
*Phil Mickelson: Even Lefty enjoys watching Jimenez as much as the rest of us do. “He’s one of those guys I like to people watch and just kind of watch him move, you know, see how he rolls,” said Mickelson, who shot three-over 74 on Friday to stay in the mix. “I’m amused by his warmup routine. I always get a kick out of that. I’ll actually arrive early to the course to watch it. He’s just an entertaining fellow.”
Meanwhile, Phil wanted to semi-apologize for his remarks following the first round when he blasted the R&A for the tricky course setup.
“When I made those comments yesterday, I wasn’t being totally fair to The R&A, because they’ve done a lot of things great this championship,” he said. “The fairway width is a very fair width to get the ball in play. The rough is difficult and challenging but it’s not over the top. It’s very fair in spots. And the setup has been great. And for me to single out just a few sketchy pin placements and not give them credit for all the good things they’ve done was not fair of me yesterday.”
The thing with links golf, especially when it’s windy, is that if you’re not striking the ball pure, you will be punished severely, but if you are hitting solid shots, most of the time you’ll be rewarded. It separates the guys who are actually playing well from the pretenders.
Basically, what it comes down to — and something that stood out to me, particularly because of my hands-on “research” on the links — is how much the wind factors in and affects the speed of putts on these firm greens,which Phil thought were running faster than Augusta National’s.
“Augusta is 14 1/2 on the Stimp and these were well into the 15 on spots,” said Phil, who heads into the weekend T11, despite three-putting from three-feet on no. 16.
On TV, it might look like these guys are 15-handicappers, but nope, it’s just freaking hard (and it made me feel a little better about my play over the past week or so). Phil does a good job explaining how the wind impacts the ball on these greens and in this case, his first short putt on 16.
“The tough thing about that particular putt for me was that it was in direct crosswind,” he said. “So I’ve got a left-to-right breaking putt and the wind was directly left-to-right. You could see I hit a solid putt, it rolled a few feet by, and it snapped low. And the same thing happened on the way back. I just didn’t play for enough break on the direct crosswind.
“Something you don’t see on TV, because you can’t tell which way the wind is blowing. But that’s a huge factor on those short putts. And I was compensating well for it and playing for it well thought the entire day. And I didn’t there. I needed to play more break. I tried to hit it firm thinking that it would keep its line a little better and it didn’t, it snapped.”
*Rory McIlroy: The world no. 2 managed to take away some positives from missing his second straight cut. He needed to get off to a fast start, but instead, he was four-over after seven holes, so he decided to hit driver on every hole coming in because he really had nothing to lose at that point and that club is going to be important in the upcoming weeks.
“I actually drove the ball pretty well, and ended up playing the last 11 holes under par,” said Rory, who shot three-over 75. “That was encouraging, but obviously I’m disappointed to be going home for the weekend. It’s the first time I’ve missed a cut at the Open, so it’s obviously quite disappointing.”
He was able to still have a sense of humor about his poor play.
I’m really looking forward to Akron,” said McIlroy, referring to the WGC-Bridgestone Championship. “It’s a place I’ve done well before. It’s a place I feel I can win. So going there, really excited to just play four rounds of golf.
He added, laughing: “There’s no cut. But then, obviously, play and practice, it’s a great place to practice, as well. Great facilities and obviously you couldn’t ask for better preparation for the defense of the PGA the week later.”
*Dustin Johnson: The long-hitting American has been in contention at the Open before and he’s golfing his ball well again this week, posting a one-over 72 on Friday to shoot a two-under 36-hole total. Heading into the weekend, he’s T2, along with Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood and Tiger Woods, but DJ was the only one of the four to tee off in the afternoon. In other words, it was harder.
“Every hole is playing hard,” said DJ. “They’re a lot faster than normal for a British Open. But then with the wind and the slopes on them, it’s really difficult to get the speed correct. You don’t get any breaks. You’ve really got to grind it out. It’s tough off the tee. It’s tough on your approach shot and it’s tough putting.”
Again, it’s hard and mentally taxing to deal with the right speed.
“(The greens) are a lot faster than normal for a British Open,” he said. “But then with the wind and the slopes on them, it’s really difficult to get the speed correct.”
*Brandt Snedeker: Yikes, Snedeker made two doubles in the first 10 holes on Friday, but he was only two-over for his round at that point. Then, he tripled no. 15 — the one with the tricky pin placement that quite a few players griped about. He was frustrated after he posted eight-over 79.
“I don’t know what we’re supposed to do to hit a green,” he said. “I saw it this morning, the guys this morning were struggling with keeping it on the green. Justin hit a beautiful bunker shot and spun it and barely stayed on the green. That one got out of control, out of hand. That’s gonna happen. There’s no way to control it during the course of the day.”
Asked how much of a grind factor it was, Snedeker said, “Beyond anything I’ve ever played in.”
*Ernie Els: The 2012 Open champ, who was not only also defending his title at Lytham, but also the 2002 Open when it was last held at Muirfield, was frustrated, to say the least. He barked a bit at reporters at the start, but that’s nothing unusual and it’s not personal. Besides, as he pointed out, he didn’t have to agree to stop by the interview area.
“I’m getting nothing out of it,” said Els after shooting back-to-back 74s. “I’m very frustrated. I just made two bogeys from the middle of the bloody fairway. I’m hitting it nicely, I’m hitting it solidly. I’m trying to do the right thing. It’s quite difficult out there.”
Asked if the R&A could do anything about the borderline greens — but not “unplayable” — overnight, Els replied, “Water. And you don’t have to cut 14 and 15. Thank you.”