Manuel Piñero recently joined the European Seniors Tour. Maria Acacia Lopez Bachiller spoke to the exWorld Champion golfer about his career thus far and his plans for the future.
" I was born in Puebla de la Calzada, a small village near Badajoz, and at the age of 10, my family moved to Madrid. An uncle had found a job for my father in a factory in Pozuelo. My mother also found work cleaning at a local school. "When we came up from Badajoz, we didn't have a thing, not a house, nothing..and there a few mouths to be fed. My brother Alfonso, who was 2, and myself would stay at home with my grandmother; Juan Carlos hadn't yet been born.
Mastering the art of caddying
"I went to school for a year, to an academy there was in Pozuelo, but we needed to earn some money so my parents started looking out for a part-time job for me. My gran took me one day to the tennis courts at the Club de Campo (Country Club) to be a ballboy, as that was something a small boy of about 10 or 11 could handle easily. We walked from Aravaca and entered the club through the higher entrance, near the golf clubhouse. My gran asked where the tennis courts were but the Caddymaster, Pablo Aguilar, answered "why don't you leave the kid with me? I need some caddies." I was 11 and couldn't manage the big bags, I remember it was really hard work to carry them.
"The first time I caddied was for an American actor who had appeared in Bridge Over the River Kwai. He had a bag similar to the ones used today. It was funny because when Pablo said "take his bag", it was almost bigger than me ! I managed to get the bag as far as the first tee before the American felt sorry for me and carried it himself for most of the round - and he paid me !
" I used to caddy for quite a few 'regulars' who were well-known in Spanish society; I have fantastic memories of all of them and, of that time in general. I hardly noticed how arduous the job was as I was happy being able to contribute to family finances. I was doing a job that seemed like a game, in the open air and it was during that time that I really grew to love the game of golf. "Every now and then groups of Americans from the airbase at Torrejon would come over and they would play with really expensive balls. At that time, many of the Club de Campo members would use balls so old that they had to be stapled together to stop the rubber coming out of the cracks. Whenever the Americans came over there would be about 40 caddies working. Of course, we would all stamp on the new balls to 'lose' them and then go back later to collect them. Each flight of four used to lose 12 or 14 balls a round which we later sold on to the members; all except one or two we would keep back to use during the next caddies' championship.
"One summer afternoon the Caddymaster sent me out with a member for 9-holes. The rate was 29ptas plus, if you were lucky, another 15ptas as a tip bu this member wasn't renowned for being over generous. When we reached the par 3, 17th, I gave him his 3-wood - he was quite old - and while he went to the tee, I headed off for the green. He hit a very good shot that left him just inches from the hole, although a hillock prevented him from seeing where the ball had landed. I knocked the ball in and started shouting "Hole in one, hole in one.." He gave me a 20 pta tip a went home happy, but not as happy as I did !
" We got up to all sorts if the players didn't pay us well and if, you were assigned to one who didn't pay much, we'd do the job badly so they wouldn't pick us again. " The caddies were only allowed to play golf in August, and before 9 o'clock in the morning. We used to tee off at 6am as the sun was coming up and rush to complete the 18-holes before 9. We couldn't sneak onto the course to play because if one of the groundstaff 'snitched' we were suspended for a week or a month. We were devilish.
" I learned to swim in the Manzanares ( the river that passes through Madrid) where 8 or 10 of us would creep off to in the summer for a dip. Pablo, saw that he was short of caddies and guessed where we were, so he sent down one of his 'sneaks' who stole all of our clothes. We had to walk back up the main road to the club soaking wet and in our underpants.
" I turned professional at 16 but wasn't allowed to give lessons at the driving range because that job was done by the more experienced pros. We had to stay up at the club and play games with the members, who looked upon it as a playing lesson. Sometimes they would bet money and we would play for it. I worked like that for almost a year until Patrick Edel, a Frenchman appeared and wanted me to teach him. At first, I didn't like him much, but he insisted and we started the classes. It was he who gave me the chance to play competitively. We reached an agreement: I would give him free lessons and he covered the costs of me playing some tournaments in Spain. When he began to help me, that's when I started to earn, not much but just about enough to keep the wolf from the door. I was 17 years old when I finished 5th in the Portuguese Open and 4th in St.Moritz. He encouraged me to travel outside Spain and accompanied me on the firts few trips.
" The first tournament I played outside Spain was the Miramar Open at Oporto in 1969, I felt a bit lost, but even though I didn't make the cut, I saw that I had a chance of making it. I won an Under-25 tournament, but my first important title was the Spanish PGA Championship at El Prat in 1973, when I was 20.
" My first victory at an internataional tournament was the Madrid Open of '74, played at Puerto de Hierro. There was a lot of rivalry between the caddies at Puerto de Hierro and Club de Campo, so after I had beaten Valentin Barros at the first extra hole of a play off, all the Club de Campo caddies and the Caddymaster, carried me on their shoulders from the green to the putting green in front of their clubhouse. I won 350,000ptas.
Life On The European Tour
The one thing I remember most about the European Circuit was the spirit amongst the Spanish pros when we went abroad; we helped, advised and coached each other and tried to make sure no-one got left out of the ProAms. If we knew that one of the group couldn't afford a fancy hotel, we would all book ourselves into a Bed & Breakfast. The most successful of us adapted to the conditions of all the others, there were no prima donnas. I always wanted to improve myself, to learn something new everyday. I observed everybody in order to learn more and more. Those of my generation, Antonio (Garrido), Cañi (Jose Maria Cañizares) and, later, Seve and Rivero, we had no complexes, we competed and didn't see anything on a golf course as being beyond our reach, we were convinced we could beat anybody. We knew our games very well and our limitations, because everything we learned had been self-taught.
One of my most memorable victories was the PGA Championship, the most important tournament on the circuit after The Open, although winning the World Cup with Seve in 1976 was also special as it was the first time Spain had won the team competition, and we were very young, Seve was 19 and I was 23. Seve made the victory speech, though neither of us spoke English at the time; he said "the course is very good, the greens fast and difficult, except for me and my team-mate". I putted sensationally that week, particularly as the greens were very fast and difficult.
The European Circuit today is nothing like it was when we started. Today's professionals are all 'five-star' whereas we were just feriantes , but the world moves on, life is different nowadays, and you have to move with the times not against them. I don't think today is better or worse than before; the achievements and successes we gained were more intimate, now they are shared between the psychologists, personal trainers, physiopherapists and the rest. Ther is a lot of help available, but I also believe that there are a lot of 'chancers', people taking advantage of the opportunity for sporting success. The sportsman is the most important ingredient, all those surrounding him, are just living off the sportsman's success.
The Present and The Future
I have the extreme good fortune to enjoy everything that I do. I am more than happy with my golf school at La Quinta, and my course design company. I've just begun to play on the Seniors Tour which is enjoyable, too. I look on the Seniors as fun, a bit of a diversion from the other things I'm doing. I'll play about 12 tournaments a year - I haven't really got time for any more. I like to hunt and read but my hobbies include everything I do. I'm interested in everything and consider myself very lucky to enjoy life.
The Ryder Cup
The Ryder Cup of 1981 was an exciting milestone. I beleive that our generation, with Seve leading the rest of us Spaniards from the front, along with Langer, made it possible for the Ryder Cup to widen its bounsdaries, I remember there being a lot of resistance against the Europeans entering. The best moment, and the most emotional, was when the Spanish national anthem was played at the Ryder Cup, for me, it was as if a homage was being paid to a whole generation of golfers who had dragged themselves up out of necessity.
The 1985 Ryder Cup was something that we had been waiting for. At that time we had the most talented group of golfers that the European Tour had ever seen. One could see that we were better than the American team, but we still had to prove ourselves by winning. The margin of victory was proof indeed. That there were four Spanish golfers on the team speaks volumes for our contribution to the victory. That week is one of the best of my whole career. I was playing with Seve and at the seventh, a par 3, we hit a great shot to the edge of the green, and to hear all the spectators - I don't know how many thousand there were - shouting " Viva España", is something I'll remember as long as I live. I turned to Seve and said " if the atmosphere continues like this, I'm going to be too emotional to carry on."
Jacklin, the Captain, asked me to go out first in the singles; I was drawn against Lanny Wadkins, I beat him 3 & 1, which I saw as some kind of sporting revenge as it was against him that Seve and I lost our only point in the pairs matches.