Cabrera got a different kind of education every Monday, when the club was closed and the caddies took over the place for spirited money games. In this milieu he learned to play golf and to compete. The Monday tradition endures. On a crystalclear day in late July, three dozen loopers turned up for their usual game: two-man teams, 10 pesos a hole with endless side bets. The swings were athletic and smooth, the pace of play brisk and the adherence to the rules absolute; mulligans were unheard-of, and the caddies putted out everything. Their gear and logoed attire was a mishmash of hand-me-downs from the members, and it was not unusual for a foursome to play out of the same bag. (Cabrera sometimes hands out his own sticks, which explains how one caddie came to be swinging a shiny Ping Rapture driver with 7.5 degrees of loft and an extra-stiff prototype Aldila shaft.)
The old-timers in the caddie yard all have their favorite stories of the young Cabrera, who was given the nickname El Pato (the Duck) for his waddling gait. Many of these tales involve Cabrera's temper. Says Jose Antonio Vazquez, who has been packing at Cordoba Country Club for more than 30 years, "I knew Pato was going to be a great player when he was 15 and I saw him go nuts after hitting a bad tee shot on the 10th hole. He was furious because he was so serious about the game. He practiced endlessly. He would either devour the course or it would devour him."
Cabrera's rage was not confined to the course. He was tall and skinny back then but still projected the menace of a raging bull. In Cordoba there is an indigenous dance called the cuarteto, a lively, rhythmic step similar to the merengue. The cuarteto is a staple of the Cordobese social scene, and Cabrera forged quite a reputation at the dance halls. "He was always in the street fighting," says Rodolfo Monjes, another longtime caddie at Cordoba Country Club. "Usually over a girl." Those who knew Cabrera back then retain vivid memories of his ferocity. "There was no holding Pato back," says Molina. "You could try, but he would run right through you."
Cabrera doesn't deny his pugilistic past — how can he, given the three scars that adorn his face? "I fought all the time," he says. "Here the barrios are very divided, so when we went to the cuartetos, guys from different barrios would fi ght if someone was looking at someone else's girl. Or simply because they were drunk and wanted to fight."
By his late teens Cabrera's golf game was defined by the same smashmouth style. Cordoba Country Club is a par-72 of 6,786 yards, with its primary defense being the small, sloping greens. It is wide open off the tee, and Cabrera says, "I learned to swing away. I didn't care. I was always going for it."