GULLANE, Scotland – A win here by Miguel Angel Jimenez could set golf back by 20 years.
Not because the Spaniard would be the oldest player ever to win a major championship. But because his fitness regimen is so old school, it involves little more than wine, cigars and a stretching routine that looks like a cross between pole dancing and baton twirling.
The 49-year-old walked off Muirfield late Friday afternoon at 3-under 139, leading the British Open over four others by a stroke. Asked whether he was feeling any additional pressure in pursuit of the one accomplishment that has eluded Jimenez throughout a distinguished 31-year pro career, he smiled.
“You have to do the same things that you do every day,” Jimenez said. “You don’t need to change anything. Just don’t think about it. As soon as I finish here and I leave the golf course, I’m just going to stay with my girlfriend, with my sons, and we’re going to have a dinner, like I do every day.
“Don’t need to do anything special. I’m leading, now I have to go to bed at 10 o’clock?”
“What time will you go to bed?” came a follow-up question.
“When I feel like it,” Jimenez replied. “And especially after I smoke my cigar.”
More than a few rivals in his position would have left the interview room and headed straight for the driving range to put in plenty of additional work. Jimenez planned nothing tougher than hitting a few balls with his coach looking on. He’ll do the same thing upon returning to the course Saturday morning, followed by a pre-round stretch that has to be seen to be appreciated.
“I’ll actually arrive early to the course to watch it,” Phil Mickelson said. “He’s one of those guys I like to ... watch and just kind of watch him move, you know, to see how he rolls.”
Jimenez usually begins with a cigar between his lips and a bushy mane pulled back into a ponytail tucked beneath his cap. First, he leans on a club and hunkers down for a few seconds. Next, he puts his knees together and rotates his hips for a few seconds more, clockwise and then counter-clockwise, as his ample gut sways side to side in rhythm. Next, he grabs two clubs and twirls them together, first with his right hand and then his left.
Lastly, Jimenez sticks the head of an iron beneath the sole of each shoe, one at a time, and extends his leg like a man about to stick his toe into a pool.
Skeptical that so little conditioning could unleash such scintillating golf – Jimenez followed up a nervy 68 on Thursday with an even-par 71 in faster, firmer conditions – a reporter asked whether he visited a trainer.
“Yeah, I had to go every morning. You know, I have my tennis elbow,” Jimenez said. “I have to do that. And I have to stretch and I have to move early my body.”
“For how long?” came yet another follow-up. “How many minutes?”
“Half an hour,” Jimenez replied. “Don’t need more to warm up. As you see, I don’t want to start lifting weights now.”
That kind of irreverence might seem like an act, but it’s proven very effective at Muirfield, where bad lies and quirky bounces test a golfer’s demeanor.
Jimenez hasn’t hit many fairways and greens in regulation – he was tied for 32nd and 80th in those categories, respectively, through Friday. But he also was tied for the lead in scrambling to rescue pars (11 times), sand saves (he has gotten up and down the five times he has found bunkers) and alone in first in one-putts (17).
“Sometimes it’s not about to make too many birdies,” Jimenez said. “It’s about not to make bogeys.”
It’s also about coping with nerves, something Jimenez mastered a long time ago. At his age, the definition of pressure – “anything that is important to you” – dovetails nicely with his definition of fun.
“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,” Jimenez said. “Having fun is doing what you like to do in your life. And I do it.”
Now he only has to do it for 2 more days.