Have you ever imagined playing golf with one of the best players on the planet?
Not only on a regular basis but also on a Golf Digest “World Top 100” golf course like Pete Dye’s magnificent Teeth of the Dog® as well? Casa de Campo’s Robert Birtel (director of golf) and Gilles Gagnon (director of golf emeritus) do so frequently with the great Miguel Angel Jimenez. A native of Spain, Jimenez now calls Casa de Campo his home base as he owns a villa on the 7,000-acre gated community in the Dominican Republic Caribbean paradise.
The stellar career of Jimenez, a truly world-class player, includes multiple Asian Tour wins and 21 European Tour wins as well as four Ryder Cup appearances. “The most interesting man in golf” is now a mainstay on the PGA Tour Champions circuit with nine victories since turning 50. “The wonderful thing about Miguel is that he is very approachable. He will play golf with anybody and he will find a way to have fun, but primarily he loves to compete. He likes to play for something. He sets up the game so you think you might have a chance to win, but you really don’t,” says Gagnon. “He is a very simple man in a good way. He likes to play golf, smoke cigars, and have a few glasses of wine.” “It has been very special to build a friendship with Miguel and his wife Susan. He is always competitive, so we always have a match when we play. Whether an individual game or a four-ball match, it is always fun, and, yes, sometimes I have won,” says Birtel with a smile.
Jimenez’s longtime nickname in the golf world is “The Mechanic,” so it is not surprising to hear that he is the best ball-striker Birtel has ever played with. “He can hit the ball with any shot shape or trajectory. It’s impressive to watch him shape the ball against the wind or hit a low shot into the wind. I learn something every time we are together. Plus he hits the ball farther than one would expect. He has really helped me improve my game.”
Teeth of the Dog® has amazing par 3’s, especially the sea hugging 5th hole. “It is always fun to watch him think himself through our par 3’s, especially No. 5. The last time we played, we had the wind helping off the left and Miguel say’s ‘ok watch this’ and hits this two-yard draw with a nine-iron from 160 yards that at the apex of the flight starts to fall one-yard to the right,” marveled Birtel. “Needless to say, he ended up with a kick-in birdie.”
The joy of the game
Birtel continues, “He also has the ability to rattle off birdies. Sometimes he hits his first shot into number one and looks at you and says ‘you don’t have a chance today.’ Those are the days you just sit back and watch the talent. The best part of playing with Miguel is his willingness to talk to you through his strategy or what he is thinking on a shot. We may be working hard to win the match, but he is always willing to help others in the group with their games. He also enjoys telling stories about his career. Believe me, they are interesting!”
A fine player himself, Gagnon said, “I want to show him that I can play better and also watch some of his shots like his ‘Carnastie Drive,’ which is a low bullet against the wind that goes about 290 yards and is named for famed Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland which is a very difficult layout with lots of wind. He must have played that shots many times when he played there in the Open Championship.
Gagnon concluded, “We can’t wait to tee it up again with him at Casa de Campo.”
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