The Most Interesting Men In The World
Continued (page 2 of 3)
"Everybody has to have a base," he says, "and mine was the street. You learn how to defend yourself on the street. You learn things you don't learn in school, which is good. Because I didn't finish grade school."
On the flip side of his rough-and-readiness and the now fading flashes of temper was an exaggerated politeness, almost a courtliness, for which Cabrera was renowned during his caddie days in Cordoba. He was a yardage savant, but his clients put an even greater value on a calmness he somehow was able to transmit to them during rounds. Lee Trevino wasn't the last great golfer to come out of the caddie yards after all. Maybe Angel is.
"I hope not," he says.
In 2007, just weeks before he won the U.S. Open, Cabrera connected with Charlie Epps, the putting guru. On two counts, Charlie despises that title.
"Coach is the word," he says. "I hate that term 'guru.' And I don't think of putting as my specialty. I hope my specialty is being able to relate to my guys."
For a career teacher, Epps was an unusually fine player, just a couple of grains short of tour quality. He qualified for U.S. Opens and PGA Championships, but something was missing.
"Discipline," he says. "I've tried to do for my players what somebody didn't do for me."
Cabrera sought Charlie out, which made sense. As Epps' father had worked for Kaiser cars in Argentina, Charlie did some of his growing up there and knew the language and the terrain. Teacher and student came together at the Players Championship in Ponte Vedra just as Angel dropped in the World Golf Ranking from 50th to 51st and out of the field.
"We went across the street to Sawgrass," Charlie says, "and hit some balls. I thought, I've got a virtuoso on my hands here. But he didn't understand how to putt."
Charlie asked Angel, "Have you ever seen Trevino stalking a putt? Eyes on the ground? Trying to get the lay of the land? Trying to feel the grass in his feet and his legs like a soccer player? Did you ever play soccer in your bare feet, Angel? Did you ever play golf in your bare feet [like Sam Snead]?"
Cabrera began making five-footers 100 at a time. If he missed at 79, he started over. He putted into the night.
"What do you think of when you play golf?" Epps asked softly.
"Nothing," Angel replied without looking up. "I like to think of absolutely nothing."
"That's good," Charlie said. "Don't change that."
And they won the Open in June.
In 2013, Cabrera nearly repeated at the Masters. The embrace he gave Adam Scott after their playoff was more memorable than his own victory four years before.
What made him comfortable enough in his skin to do that?
"When you win almost 40 tournaments worldwide," Angel says, "you think you must be pretty good. But with a major victory -- no, the second major victory -- comes a feeling sort of like relief. You were good. You are good. You understand, finally."
Ah, that's when he graduated.
"I was sorry for myself last year, I won't deny it, but I was happy for him, because I understood."
He inspires understanding in others, too. Tiger Woods has never looked more attractive in defeat than he did as a runner-up standing behind Cabrera and clapping for him at Oakmont.
"Tiger would much rather have won against me just as I would much rather have won against Adam. But it's not war. It's sport. And we know something, Tiger and I, that most people don't." Angel is closing in on 45, but he still has dreams.
"Yeah, obviously. Why not?" he says. "Even if he has already accomplished some great thing, a man with no dreams might as well just stay in his house."
He will always be the first Argentine and South American to win a green jacket. Nobody can take that away from him. In a manner of speaking, 41 years later, he corrected countryman Roberto De Vicenzo's scorecard mistake. The great Seņor. Winner of 230 golf tournaments.
"Two-hundred-and-thirty-one," Cabrera says.
(Wake us up, Tiger, when you get to 200.)
Being 91, though, De Vicenzo was too distant a model for Angel. Like Jimenez, his truer antecedent was Ballesteros. "You knew Seve as a great champion, the one who revolutionized golf in Europe," Cabrera says. "We knew him as a man who played golf with his heart."
The last question, meant as a joke, was what did Angel really think of this fellow Epps sitting beside him doing the translating? But Angel's long reply didn't have to be translated. The tears filling Charlie's eyes were the answer.
THE LONELIEST MUSKETEERWith two detonations of desert dirt, rocks, yellow flowers and cactus needles, Frenchman Victor Dubuisson (translation: Conqueror of the Bush) made the loudest entrance in the history of golf at the Accenture Match Play outside Tucson.
"Can you believe this?" Arnold Palmer called CBS to exclaim.
Gary Player said, "I'm not sure I can recall anything like this in 60 years as a pro." "Two of the greatest up-and-downs I've ever seen," said Tom Watson.
"How many shots have we seen over the years on television?" Nick Faldo wondered. "It must be millions. And here are two that stand alone."
Dubuisson, whose pedigree is by Alexandre Dumas out of Greta Garbo, was more restrained. "Those two chips I managed to do, you know, it could have just stayed in the rocks and the bush. It was great but it was like 50-50. It was not really my control. ... The bunker shot at 18, that's the shot I will more remember." He had to have that one to get to the extra holes and the exploding buissons.
Victor's attitude about half-lucky shots is reminiscent of his feeling about the game of basketball, though his uncle, Hervé Dubuisson, is Mr. Basketball of France.
"I didn't really like basketball," he says. "I liked to play basketball, but I prefer to be on my own, to be in control of what I do. ... I'm very individualistic. I don't mind to be alone for five, six weeks. Golf is a sport where you play alone. I just like to play for myself. ... Basketball, it was great, but I don't really like to depend on other people." He laughs nervously.
"We'll break him of that at the Ryder Cup," says Graeme McDowell, one of Dubuisson's victims on his march to the 23rd-hole loss to Jason Day in the final. "I'll take him as a partner in the foursomes right now. Our match turned at 17, where I had the better lie but he made the better shot. Then his touch at 18 was exquisite. At the end of the day, that's what beat me."
They say you know a man a little after you play a round of golf with him, but the 24-year-old Frenchman isn't easy to know.
"He speaks English," Day says, "but there's still a little bit of a language barrier. After that first up-and-down, he came over to me and apologized, which tells you something about his character. 'No, don't say you're sorry,' I told him. 'We're both trying to win.' Then he hit the second impossible shot, and I made that face on television that I didn't even know I was making until I saw it on replay. Meeting Victor for the first time, playing golf with him, it's hard to explain, but I'll tell you what it's like: It's like he's the nicest guy you've ever met." If you ask why Victor is an uncomfortable-looking man in a pressroom, maybe it's because he comes from a mysterious family.