It's Friday night in Villa Allende, and Angel Cabrera is in the middle of all the action as usual. Six weeks ago he won the U.S. Open, yesterday he was feted at the Casa Rosada by the president of his native Argentina, but tonight Cabrera is back home in this hamlet on the outskirts of Cordoba, in the foothills of the Sierras Chicas. Friday nights in Villa Allende always begin in the backroom of the Almacen y Bar Condor, a local dive where Cabrera gathers with two dozen of the men he calls his companeros.
Cabrera, 37, has 16 worldwide victories and career earnings in the neighborhood of $20 million, but keeping it real is not a problem. The crowd at the Condor comprises caddies, carpenters, gardeners, handymen and other hard-living, harddrinking characters from the old barrio in Mendiolaza, the nearby town in which Cabrera grew up. His was a hard-knock life — abandoned by his parents at age three, Angel was a grade school dropout who took on menial jobs to survive. He has known many of the men at the Condor since he was a boy, and they treat him as one of their own, which is to say, disparagingly.
Women, and strangers, are not welcome in the backroom. Once the usual gang has arrived, the front doors are barred, for safety and exclusivity. The men do not talk about politics or golf or the weather. Mostly they talk trash, and Cabrera is not immune from the steady barrage of ribbing. Whereas one regular with a salt-and-pepper bouffant is called Casco (helmet), Cabrera is referred to as Pelado (bald), a nod to his rapidly receding hairline. Many of the other nicknames are unprintable.
Eventually dinner is served in the spartan backroom on rickety wooden tables. Cabrera's appetites are like his tee shots — prodigious. He homes in on a heaping platter of bifes a caballo, a dish of succulent beef buried under a blanket of runny fried eggs. Tableware is considered an extravagance with this crowd, so Cabrera grabs a chunk of the messy fare with his fingers and jams it into his mouth. He gestures for all to join in, egg yoke dripping from his hand. This is washed down by a Cordobese specialty: Coke with Fernet Branca, a bitter, aromatic spirit brewed from grapes and more than 40 herbs and spices. Fernet is made in Italy, and Cabrera likes to tell the story about a long-ago Italian Open during which he was kicked out of a restaurant because the proprietor considered it vulgar to mix Coke with such a prized digestif. Here at the Condor the concoction is chugged out of sawed-off two-liter plastic soda bottles.