The World Cup of Golf’s staging over the famed Composite Course at Royal Melbourne Golf Club will be a colourful affair, they always are.
Sixty players representing thirty different and culturally diverse nations will congregate from all corners of the globe for the 58th edition of the Cup, where the ‘defenders’ will be the United States after their victory in 2011 in Mission Hills, China.
The Cup took a sabbatical in 2012 but returns to Royal Melbourne for the first time since Australia’s bicentennial celebrations in 1988 where again, an American team of Ben Crenshaw and Mark McCumber were victorious.
The Cup has been won by nine different nations since 2002 and keen to extend that streak to a tenth will be one of the most colourful characters in golf at the moment – Spain’s Miguel Ángel Jiménez – who will partner Rafa Cabera-Bello in Melbourne.
49 years young but with the vim and vigor of a man half his age, Jiménez has enjoyed a rich vein of form since returning from breaking his leg in a ski accident in the Swiss Alps last December – highlighted by a brush with glory at the Open Championship at Muirfield, where he was the halfway leader in what would have been the ultimate cult victory before finishing tied for 13th.
Only his caddie at the time might remember a stretch of tournaments at the back end of 1992 that marked the first and last time Jiménez played tournament golf in Australia. His Australian visit was just a few months after his first win in Europe and well before his trademark cigar, pony tail and Joie de vivre became world famous.
He may not have set the world in fire back then but Jiménez’ return to these parts will be greeted with great interest and curiosity by local fans, as he craves a World Cup win for Spain in the country who last won this event ‘in’ Spain in 1989.
Q. The World Cup of Golf at Royal Melbourne will be a long time between drinks for you in Australia?
A. It’s been over 20 years since I came to Australia, when I played three tournaments there in 1992.
I played two events in the Sydney area and one at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, so I am really looking forward very much to returning to Australia after such a long time away.
Q. You’ve played and won regularly in Asia – in Thailand, China and Hong Kong – but not been back to Australia until now. We feel like we’ve missed out a lot on seeing ‘the coolest man alive’ on our shores, as you were referred to at the Open Championship this year.
A. The only reason I haven’t been back to Australia is because of the distance and being able to fit an Australian tournament within my schedule.
I play about 30 tournaments each year, apart from this year when I broke my leg skiing and had five months of no events, and this means so much travelling between Europe, Asia and the USA.
I love playing all these tournaments but sometimes as a Member of the European Tour the flying becomes totally exhausting.
Q. Are you one of those players who attempts to find time to visit classic golf courses when you travel to an event, courses that are near the tournament venue that week?
A. It would be great to have the time to do this but sadly I never do, unless I am on holiday. I generally arrive at the tournament venue on the Monday, practice Tuesday and Wednesday on the golf course we will play the tournament, and then Thursday we start the event.
In Melbourne, we will have even less time as we won’t arrive until Tuesday early morning as we are playing the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai the week before.
Q. I know you’re a wine guy, as am I! Do you have particular favourites in your cellar; are you more partial to Spanish wines than international produce, for example?
A. I have some great wines in my collection and it’s true that the majority are Spanish. My favourites from Rioja are Roda 1 and I also love Cirsion, and from the Ribera del Duero, I enjoy very much Vega Sicilia and Mauro.
But I am always very interested to try wine from other countries and I will look forward to trying some of the Australian wines when I am in Melbourne.
Q. Are you familiar with the Mornington Peninsula wine region that is just down the road from Royal Melbourne?
A. I look forward to trying some while I am in Melbourne!
Q. What’s been your most memorable wine experience in your travels to date, be it a trip spent in a particular region, a special bottle that blew your mind…?
A. A small group of golfers and friends were invited by the Arnault family during the week of the Open de France in July this year, to the Chateau Cheval Blanc in St Emilion in the Bordeaux region.
It was an incredible experience and we were so lucky to try some amazing wine during the trip.
Q. You held the lead at the Open Championship at Muirfield earlier this year and responded to a question about leading at age 49 with something like:
“Why? I have not the right to do it? Only the young people can do it?”
Does that impassioned response suggest that as you approach 50 (in January 2014) that you’re not inclined just yet to throw in your lot with the so-called ‘fat bellies’ on the Champions and Euro Senior Tour?
A. As long as I am still competitive against the “young” guys then I will continue to play against them. I won the Hong Kong Open in November last year, then in December, I had five months off with my broken leg. It was so frustrating!
But I have had a pretty good year since then and I am higher in the World Rankings than after the win in Hong Kong, and I am playing really well at the moment.
So, to answer your question, I may play a few tournaments with the Seniors in 2014, but my priority will be to continue on the European Tour for the moment.
Q. You may not want to be so bold as to make public a goal like this but ‘Miguel Ángel Jiménez – oldest major champion in history’ has a great ring to it, doesn’t it? Tom Watson nearly achieved the feat a few years ago at 59 (The record is held by Julius Boros at age 48).
A. Tom Watson is an incredible Champion and a true gentleman. I would be delighted to be playing as well as he is at his age, he is really amazing.
Of course to win a Major Championship is a goal for me, even if it’s a Senior Major Championship, and I really believe I still have the game to do it, so why not?
Q. What about the Ryder Cup? Are you unwavering in a desire to make the team next year at Gleneagles, and beyond?
A. Totally! Being a part of four Ryder Cup Teams has been one of the highlights of my career so far and especially on the winning teams!
It’s impossible to explain fully the emotion, passion, excitement and adrenaline that the event brings. I know from previous years how tough it is to qualify for the Team but if I can do it at Gleneagles and be the oldest player ever to play the Ryder Cup, I would be so proud and happy.
But I also know that I cannot think about it too much at the moment. I just have to play my best every week and if I qualify….. Fantastic!
Q. The tags: ‘The Coolest man alive’, ‘World’s Most Interesting Man’, even ‘Golf’s Pleasure King’ – are some of the monikers I’ve seen written about you just this year. I guess they’re all a bit more grandiose and imaginative than ‘The Mechanic’, but does it amuse you when you read all this stuff?
A. I am not trying to be anything other than myself and to enjoy my life. I am who I am, and I know that I look different from some of the other guys, but that’s me!
Q. Amen to that! Back to the World Cup: was having the event at Royal Melbourne part of the attraction in returning to this country?
A. Yes, of course, to have the chance to play the World Cup on such a fantastic golf course is always going to be very exciting. But, for me the most important point is being able to play for my country of Spain.
I have lost count, but I think this will be my 14th time representing Spain at the World Cup. We finished 2nd in 2008 in China when I partnered Pablo Larrazabal and also in 2004 with Sergio Garcia, at the Real Club de Golf Sevilla in Spain.
I would be so incredibly proud to win the event for Spain.