It is simple, when Jim�nez considers the alternatives. He is one of seven brothers who grew up in Churriana, a narrow-streeted village that climbs the foothills above the M�laga airport. "Everybody there is either a farmer or in the service industry," says Juan Jim�nez, who is 12 years older than Miguel. "Cooks and waiters."
And golf pros. Juan started as a caddie at the Parador de Golf, a course next to the airport. When he decided, in his late teens, that he wanted to become a pro, his father—a construction worker who became the locker room attendant at Torrequebrada—warned that Juan would never be able to support himself. The scenario was repeated a decade later when Juan, by then the head pro at Torrequebrada, told his father that 16-year-old Miguel might also have talent, even though he had just taken up the game. "Our parents said, 'There is no future in this,' " Juan says, "but I had already made it happen for me, so they couldn't say no to Miguel." Besides, Miguel wasn't making much sweeping the floor in a local garage.
The training of Miguel Angel Jim�nez would make a modern swing coach shake his head. He caddied almost every day and took charge of the driving range for Juan, picking up balls and moving around the tee markers. The rest of the time Miguel practiced, going to his brother with questions that Juan answered in a few words or with a simple demonstration. "That's the way," Juan would say. "Go work."
For Miguel, a bright youngster with an antipathy for book learning, the snippet approach was perfect. "When you're starting, you don't need a guy standing behind you like this," he says, folding his arms and looking thoughtful in imitation of David Leadbetter. "You need to develop a feel." Juan pretends he had little to do with Miguel's success. "I didn't teach him," he says. "He learned from me."
The Jim�nez swing is long, flat and loopy, reflecting its homemade origins, but Ballesteros disagrees with those who say it is a bad swing. "His swing reminds me of Bobby Jones's because he takes the club inside the line and then brings it down on line," Ballesteros says. "He is a very good ball striker."
As for why Jim�nez has suddenly blossomed as a player in his 30s, the Spanish delegation is in agreement. "He has begun to believe in himself, to believe that he can win," says Sergio Garc�a. "More self-confidence," says Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal. Ballesteros, who gave Jim�nez's ego a boost by naming him European vice captain for the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama, says, "He whined a lot last year about how poorly he was playing and would ask me, 'Seve, what do you think? I don't feel comfortable with my game.' That same week he would end up among the top three in the tournament."
Jim�nez is known to be a character. His nickname, the Mechanic, derives from his interest in cars and the fact that two of his brothers are mechanics. (Andr�s Jim�nez, who played with Miguel on the developmental Challenge tour in the late '80s, remembers Miguel disassembling a carburetor on the table of a hotel room in Lyon, France, the week he won his first tournament outside Spain.) "He's always ready to horse around and tell jokes," says Olaz�bal. "When things don't go well for us and we are in dark moods, he is the first to say, 'It's no big deal, guys. Let's lighten up and be more alegre [happy].' "
Jim�nez's good humor was welcome at the '99 Ryder Cup, in which he played all five matches and earned two points. ("The emotion was overwhelming," Jim�nez says. "I had chicken skin for five rounds.") His amiability has kept him out of the brouhaha emanating from the Americans' stunning come-from-behind victory as his teammates and '99 captain Mark James have split into finger-pointing factions. Jim�nez refuses to get involved, saying, "The water that's already passed doesn't turn the wheel anymore."
That Jim�nez is virtually unknown in the U.S. and in Britain can be explained by the language barrier and by the fact that he is less flamboyant on the golf course than off it. But Ballesteros complains that even the European and Spanish press "have not given [Miguel] the credit that he deserves."
Not that he would want more attention than he gets in Andalusia. Every time he wins a tournament, his family and friends throw a party for him at Chico, a storefront bar and hamburgueseria in Churriana. At Chico, the incessant warbling of caged jilgueros competes with a jukebox, loud talk, laughter and the clacking of domino tiles. Many of the regular patrons are club pros and assistants, and one wall is covered with golf photographs and clippings, mostly about Jim�nez. "For us, Miguel is like a god," says club pro Pepe Navarro. "He has created a love and interest in golf even among the people who don't know anything about it."