A long road and two major championships for Angel Cabrera

A long road and two major championships for Angel Cabrera

Published Jun. 10, 2016 4:02 p.m. ET

Going a mile in the shoes of Angel Cabrera is just getting started.

Charlie Epps, who has known Cabrera since he was 18 and has coached him for the last decade, once calculated that the 46-year-old Argentine has walked more than 50,000 miles during his hardscrabble journey through golf. That's the equivalent of two trips around the world, and then a little more.

From when he was 5, Cabrera walked to school, then walked to the golf course in Cordoba to caddie seven days a week. He played, and the mileage kept piling up over 500 tournaments around the world.

And how long did a pair of shoes last?


''They had to last a long time,'' Cabrera said, ''because I didn't have money to buy another pair.''

A tough man with a tender heart, Cabrera returns to the U.S. Open at Oakmont, where in 2007 he won the first of his two major championships with that free-flowing, powerful swing and a no-nonsense approach to life and sport.

When told he had taken down Tiger Woods, the No. 1 player in the world, Cabrera replied, ''No, no, no. I beat everybody, not only him.'' He used to smoke then, and Cabrera was asked after he won whether cigarettes relaxed him. ''Well, there are some players that have psychologists,'' he said. ''I smoke.''

He is an inspiration among the Latinos, not only for his victories at Oakmont and Augusta National two years later, but for the money he has poured back into Argentina through a foundation geared toward health care and education, and for young golfers who don't have the money to chase their dreams.

''He beat Tiger Woods in a U.S. Open It doesn't get any better,'' said Emiliano Grillo, now Argentina's highest-ranked golfer. ''He's a two-time major champion. You can see a lot of guys, big names, stopping by and all the respect he gets. He goes to Argentina, he's a golf god there.''

And he remains an enigma to so many others in one respect.

For a man with so much talent and so little fear, he has only nine official victories around the world. Two of them are majors at America's most storied courses.

Epps recalls the time in 2009 when Cabrera had gone nearly two years and 34 tournaments outside Argentina without finishing in the top 10 in stroke play. He missed his second straight cut in the Houston Open, and on the walk to the parking lot, Cabrera told him, ''Let's go win a major.''

Nine days later he was in a green jacket .

''It shows up when you least expect it,'' Cabrera said with a big smile.

Graeme McDowell can attest to that. He played a practice round at Oakmont on the eve of the 2007 U.S. Open and Cabrera joined him. McDowell never would have guessed he was playing with the eventual champion.

''I'm out there doing my thing, looking at lines, chipping, grinding, signing autographs,'' McDowell said. ''Angel stepped up on every tee and flushed it down the middle, hit it on the green, whiffed at a putt near the hole and scooped it up. Every time he got to the tee, he'd be waiting for me 15 minutes. I thought this was place was brutal. He literally did not chip or putt. All he did was chain-smoke at the back of the tee box waiting on me.

''He's just an incredible talent,'' he said. ''And sometimes he looks like a guy who doesn't want to be there.''

Geoff Ogilvy offered short descriptions when asked what first came to mind about Cabrera.

Talented. Good. Big-time player.

He paused to smile before adding, ''Grumpy.''

''He could win everywhere,'' Ogilvy said. ''He so good that when it's not going well, it gets frustrating. But he used to be the funnest guy of the 12 on the Presidents Cup teams. He'd be the first guy getting beer out of the cooler.''

The talent is rarely in question.

Golf Digest once asked some of the game's greatest players for their five favorite swings of all time. On the panel was Mickey Wright, whose swing was so pure that Ben Hogan once called it the best he ever saw. On her list were Hogan, Sam Snead, Louise Suggs, Gene Littler and Cabrera.

Ogilvy once said the only two swings that had complete freedom in today's game belonged to Rory McIlroy and Cabrera.

''There's no interference,'' Ogilvy said. ''At some point (in the swing), our brain says, `Don't do that!' Cabrera doesn't have that. It's free. There's no part of his body that's holding it back. The ball doesn't slow the club down.''

Cabrera is not bothered by not having won more. Asked once if he would rather have 15 victories on the PGA Tour or two majors, he quickly replied, ''Ask Colin Montgomerie what he would prefer. I'd prefer to have two majors.''

Cabrera is content to keep grinding through good days and bad, knowing the good stuff will show up when he least expects it.

For a former caddie in Cordoba, who didn't have television until he was 20 and didn't drive a car until he was 24, Cabrera has a locker in the champions room at Augusta and an honorary membership at Oakmont. It's been a great ride, all 50,000-plus miles on foot.

''When I was a caddie, it was a good time. I was on the golf course, happy,'' he said. ''Then when I started playing, I was happy then. I'm happy now. I get a little upset on the golf course, but I don't bring anything home.''

A few years ago, he sat at a bar outside Washington smiling as he stared at his phone, scrolling through dozens of pictures of his granddaughter. He has two grandchildren now. They called him, ''Abu,'' short for abuelo.

One year in Tampa, Florida, he was talking about his grandchildren when Epps said, ''I want to take them to Disneyworld. He never enjoyed that as a boy.''

Cabrera, who speaks mainly in Spanish but understands plenty in English, looked up and wagged his finger at Epps. He did not want to hear about a vacation. It was time to get back to work, all he's ever known.