Golf is a joy to Miguel Angel Jimenez, and when you finish in the top 10 of tournaments two out of every three times, it’s not hard to see why.
It goes beyond that for Jimenez, who’s making his first appearance at the American Family Insurance Championship this week.
He talked Wednesday at University Ridge Golf Course about the love he feels from galleries around the PGA Tour Champions circuit and on the European Tour, groups that know him as a colorful character.
He detailed his work in creating a nine-hole, par-3 course in his native Spain, an effort that he said will open more opportunities for children to play.
And he shared a connection to the game that has trickled down to his sons, with rounds played together as soon as he gets home from tour events.
“Golf is amazing,” Jimenez said. “It’s a very, very nice life and I always enjoy what I’m doing.”
For a tour player, it’s nicer when you’re able to post the kind of results that Jimenez has.
He has finished in the top 10 in six of the nine Champions tour events he has played this year and in 15 of 22 since the start of 2016.
A tie for third place in the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship in May pushed him to third on the season money list with more than $760,000 in earnings.
Jimenez has won once in each of four years playing in the 50-and-older circuit, including back-to-back wins at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic in the past two Aprils.
Career success — the 53-year-old Spaniard has 21 career European Tour titles — is only one of the reasons why Jimenez is so recognizable around the course.
The ponytail tucked beneath the back of his visor makes him easy to distinguish from his fellow competitors. He has a stretching routine of twists and gyrations that has become well-known around golf.
If those don’t make him stand out, the cigar he often has in his mouth does.
On the putting green before a practice round Tuesday afternoon, Jimenez rolled out three golf balls, lit his cigar and went to work.
“I feel that people love me, and I don’t know why,” he said. “Probably because I’m the way I am. Everybody’s the way they are.
“I never hide anything or what I like in my life, and probably people like that.”
He wasn’t in Madison for last year’s first running of host Steve Stricker’s tournament because of a conflict with a European event.
His initial impressions from a Tuesday round were that University Ridge was a “good compromise,” with decreased length making up for narrow fairways.
Jimenez, who’s listed in betting odds as the second-favorite behind Stricker for the Am Fam tournament, keeps a busy schedule. He’s slated to play in the U.S. Senior Open next week in Massachusetts before heading across the Atlantic for a tournament in Northern Ireland.
In the meantime, he’s helping to design a short-game facility at Las Colinas, one of Spain’s top courses.
His golf academy in Malaga teaches 100 children of varying ages and skills, where Jimenez said his goal is to get golf close to the people.
“That’s my thing, it’s to promote the golf to the kids to make them better golfers, better persons,” he said. “Sport and life is very, very important for the future.”
Fans have been drawn to Jimenez, whose international career includes four Ryder Cup appearances as a player and three as a vice captain. The player he is on TV appears to be the same up close.
“He seems like a free-spirited guy,” said Zac Leider of Verona, who saw Jimenez on the practice green Wednesday while checking out play during the tournament’s Pro-Am. “I can see why fans would take to him.”
The joy in his game — he’s been known to break out dance steps after holing out from the fairway — is just that visible.
“Golf is probably the only thing I love to do in my life, and I make my living playing golf also,” Jimenez said. “I think that is amazing.”