"Just because I won the U.S. Open doesn't mean I'm going to change the way I live," Angel Cabrera told Sports Illustrated last August in his native Argentina, for a profile co-written by Luis Fernando Llosa. "I'm going to do what I've always done."
What the 38-year-old has always done besides win (19 victories worldwide) is to speak from the heart. Llosa reconnected with the man whose 1-under-par 69 bested Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk at Oakmont last year, making him the second Argentine (after Roberto De Vicenzo) to win a major. In a spirited exchange, the champion talks Torrey Pines, kicking cigarettes, and his lonely life on the PGA Tour.
You smoked a lot of cigarettes at
last year's U.S. Open. You've said,
Some players have psychologists.
I smoke. How has smoking helped?
I get that question over and over. Listen. I quit smoking last summer, after the British, on July 24th. I haven't smoked since. There are a lot of players who smoke and play well. There's nothing wrong with that. Back then I was being tortured with questions about smoking, so I made a comment about smoking and psychologists. But enough already.
Why'd you quit?
Because I didn't feel like smoking anymore. Are you guys are going to torture me for the next year with questions about why I don't smoke? [laughs]
Just one more. Didn't smoking help
you cope with pressure? What do
you do now?
No. No. I smoked because I wanted to and because I was addicted. It was a bad habit, not an aid on the course. Quitting has had no effect on my game.
What annoys you more the oftrepeated
questions about your
smoking, or the oft-repeated
questions about how you got the
nickname El Pato?
Smoking questions. I have never been annoyed by anyone's inquiries about my nickname. Never.
So what do you think about sports
psychologists? Are they necessary?
Definitely. Just look at how many players use them. But the player who starts up with a psychologist ends up not being able to play without the guy standing by to hold his hand.
What about you?
I hope I never need one. I tried talking to a psychologist once. Two minutes in, I said, "Ciao!" Never again. There's no way, no way, I'd continue! I couldn't buy into a single thing the guy was saying.
Even though you're from Argentina,
at last year's Open you seemed to
connect with the U.S. fans, even as
you were beating their favorite player, Tiger. Why do American
fans like you?
I don't know, but I think the public in the U.S. really enjoys watching us play, especially when they see a less well-known player, like me, do well.
What are your long-term goals?
First, to see my sons grow up healthy and happy. In golf, I don't know. I've already done many things I never imagined I'd be able to do. I owe this sport so much that everything that comes my way now is a bonus. I want to win many more tournaments, to win another major, but I don't dream about it. I don't go crazy thinking about it. Winning one is already a dream come true.
Do you dream of winning another
I don't dream about winning another major. I believe that I will.
Since winning at Oakmont, you've
won the Singapore Open and the
Grand Slam of Golf, and you
finished second in the HSBC
World Matchplay Championship.
It seems you've gotten even better
since your Open win.
After winning a major, things changed. I knew I could win before, but sometimes my head got in the way. Once I'd won, I figured, "If I won this I can continue winning." It gave me confidence.
Is there a specific part of your game
you're working on?
The only thing that has changed for me is my mind-set the part that doesn't know whether you can win. Nothing else needs change. For me the swing is always the same. The movements are the same. What matters is knowing you can do big things. Once you know that, you can do them.
After you won the Open and more
Americans knew who you were, did
you feel, Hey, come on! I was great
before. My talent was there?
I never heard such comments or questions, so I never responded or talked about that. But I've played in the U.S. for years and have been in the hunt at Augusta and at other majors before.
What's the best thing about being
U.S. Open champ? Do you get
better seats in restaurants?
I don't use the title to try and get better treatment from anyone. I wait on line with everyone else. The only thing that matters is that I will have that victory for the rest of my life, and my sons will be able to say, "My dad won a major."
Roberto De Vicenzo once said of
you, He seems to make the big
mistake. He has to make what he
has inside stronger. Before
Oakmont, you had some losses
that could have been victories.
Was he right?
I never heard him say that. What do you guys want me to do, speak ill of De Vicenzo? I don't know what he said. This "should have been victories" thing means nothing. This game is win or lose. That's all. I have my style of play and I'm not going to ever change it. If I win, I win.
After you won at Oakmont he
called you, My hero.
Listen, I never see him. He's from a different generation. Perhaps he said those things, but he never said them to me.
This year's Open is at Torrey Pines,
yet you didn't play the Buick
Invitational this year. Weren't you
tempted to get a sneak preview
of the course?
No. Because the course is going to be totally different for the U.S. Open. To me, there's no advantage to playing in January there. They transform the course entirely for the Open.
Your protege and countryman
Andres Romero almost won the
British Open last summer and has
won his first Tour event, the Zurich
Classic of New Orleans. What kind
of advice have you given him?
We're friendly, but I am not big on advice. He's a great player, and he's always going to be in the hunt. He's figured out that success depends on him alone, on what he does. Now he's won, and more importantly, he knows that he can win.
What was the best advice you've
ever received about playing on
the PGA Tour?
Advice for what? When I got to the Tour, I wasn't a teenager. I was a grown man. Already 34. Who's going to advise me on my game? If I want to hire a pro that's one thing, but advice? In golf advice is not a big thing. If you don't have the ability you won't get anywhere no matter how much advice you get. The only thing people can suggest that matters is, be a good person and treat people respectfully. But advice on your game doesn't mean much to me.
What about in general, in golf
and in life what's the best advice
you've ever gotten?
To be a healthy, respectable person and treat everyone equally. I learned that when I was young, a caddie. People told me that at the club and I observed everyone around me.
Let's talk about those salad days.
You quit elementary school to
caddie at Cordoba Country Club.
You did it, in your words, to put
food on the table.
I had no choice. I had to work to eat. I couldn't even complete a basic elementary education. [Being a caddie] was a beautiful life. The course was a safe haven. I made many lifelong friends. It was my second home. I'd sleep at home and then spend 12 hours a day hanging out there.
Who was the worst person to
I remember once on the fourth hole at the club when I was 12 or 13 I threw down a member's bag because he mistreated me. I told him, "Carry your own bags, because I'm done!" and threw them down on the grass. I had absolutely no money at the time, but I deserved to be treated with respect.
You said last year, I couldn't do
anything else. I had to play golf to
make a living, to feed my kids and
wife. Did you have a backup
I didn't have any options. Either I played golf, or I'd have to work in people's gardens or become a handyman. If golf didn't pan out, I'd have nothing.
When are you happiest?
When I'm on the course playing, obviously otherwise, when I'm spending time with my sons and my wife, because I have very little time to be with them.
So happiness for you is chilling at
home in Cordoba, firing up your massive red-brick grilling station
and preparing an asado?
There's nothing better.
You must have been pretty happy
when you reached a 603-yard hole
with driver and an 8-iron in South
Africa in 2005. Are you as long now
as then? Have you made any
concessions to age, at 38?
I'm getting older, yes thank you for noticing. That's a question for the statisticians. I don't measure the distance of my shots. Look, I'm never going to change or adjust my game. It's always going to be the same game to me. I may be a bit shorter or longer, but nothing is really going to change.
Last year in Cordoba you told me
that you felt more comfortable
playing in Europe than in the
United States because of the coterie
of Argentine ex-pats you hung out
with there who helped you combat
your homesickness. Have you
started to adapt better to life on
the PGA Tour this year?
Nothing has really changed. I'm playing here now because it's almost an obligation to play here. But the truth is, I felt much more comfortable playing in Europe than here. Here, I'm alone. I go out alone. I play alone. Over there, people were generally friendlier, warmer. And I had seven or eight Argentinean friends on the tour to hang out with. But I made the decision at the beginning of the year to play more on the PGA Tour. I'm trying it for a year. At the end of the year I'll see if I continue or leave. I'll stay if I can adapt and feel comfortable. If not I'll go back to Europe.
What's the biggest misconception
People will think what they want. That stuff doesn't matter to me. Whether they think well about me or not, I'm trying to do things as best I can. I can't change the way people think.
What's the one thing you like least
I don't know. What's not to like? I love myself. I think everything I do I do well, although I make mistakes sometimes.
Order these items in terms of
priority: Sex, money, golf, friends,
I don't answer those kinds of questions. That kind of b.s. doesn't interest me. Ask me about golf, and I'll answer any question you have.
You were left to live with your
grandmother when you were 3,
and you've never talked with either
of your parents as an adult. Has
there been any movement in your
relationship with them? What
would it take to finally make peace?
No. No. No. I have my kids, my wife and no one else. They are my only family.
What's your greatest strength?
How would you like to be remembered
after you're gone?
People will remember me the way they want to no matter what I do or how I am. Like I said, I don't really care what other people think of me.