Angel Cabrera remains thoughtful, fiery and blunt after his U.S. Open triumph

Angel Cabrera remains thoughtful, fiery and blunt after his U.S. Open triumph

Hey, Tiger ... DUCK! "El Pato" held off Woods at Oakmont.
Michael Crouser

“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
U.S. Open?

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
caddie for?

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
career planned?

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
about you?

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
about yourself?

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?

Playing golf.

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.

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