Mariano Bartolome knows how to keep the defending U.S. Open champion in rhythm

Mariano Bartolome knows how to keep the defending U.S. Open champion in rhythm

june4_cabrera_299x199_0.jpg
Bartolome (left) helped Cabrera maintain his tempo and balletic footwork at Oakmont.
Bob Martin/SI

Perhaps the most delicate part of the instructor’s
art is knowing what not to change.

The less skilled teacher tries to take away everything
that doesn’t look like Hogan or Tiger,
an approach that in the wrong hands would have robbed
the world of, for example, Jim Furyk.

Although the defending U.S. Open
champion owns a swing and tempo
as pretty as any, Angel Cabrera also
has a decidedly nonclassic quirk.

Remember
how Greg Norman used to
slide his right heel all the way to his
left heel on his downswing? Cabrera
sometimes has a similar slide — only he
gets up on the toes of his right foot, a
balletic move for a big man.

“Watch this,” says Mariano Bartolome,
Cabrera’s instructor since
2001. Bartolome has isolated the
most extreme example of the Cabrera
cumbia, which he has cued up on a big
video screen at the Jim McLean
Golf
School at Doral, in Miami, where he
teaches.

On this swing with a driver at
last year’s British Open at Carnoustie,
Cabrera’s right foot plainly leaves the ground for a moment,
toes pointed, as it travels forward toward the target on his
downswing.

“The first time I noticed his right foot drag, I
said to myself, Don’t touch it,” says Bartolome, 36, an Argentine,
like Cabrera. “As long as he’s on plane and his hands
are square from waist to waist, he’s good … He [also] has
a lot of head movement. That’s good too.”

Of all the instructors to the stars, Bartolome keeps the
lowest profile. “I keep telling everyone who will listen that
Mariano is obviously the greatest instructor nobody has
heard of,” says McLean.
“With what he has done, any other
teacher would be on the cover of international magazines.”

To say nothing of what he’s almost done: Andres Romero,
another of Bartolome’s students, finished double bogey, bogey
during an amazing 10-birdie final round at Carnoustie last
summer. One stroke better and he would have made the
playoff, and both Open champions might have been students
of the quiet man from Buenos Aires.

He was born to it, no doubt about that. Bartolome grew up
in a house 50 yards from the practice tee at the Hindu Club
in Buenos Aires. His grandparents ran the caddie operation,
and his father, Norberto, the teaching pro, was one of the most
respected instructors in South America.

Mariano was himself
a very good player. He earned enough to stick on the Argentine
and South American tours for parts of six years. In ’93
he began his career as an instructor in earnest, spending
mornings at Buenos Aires’s Campo Chico Country Club and
afternoons teaching the juniors at Hindu. Then, up the ladder:
the Golf Club of Argentina
in ’96, Doral and McLean in ’99.

Today Bartolome spends about half his time in Madrid,
as the director of McLean’s
school there.


Like his father, Bartolome believes in rhythm, that “the
body is the engine of the swing,” and in leaving well enough
alone. “I do a very simple kind of work with Angel,” Bartolome
says.

During their last session before the 2007 U.S. Open,
they worked on setup. When Cabrera is
off, he crouches too much, gets too open
and blocks the ball to the right. Stand
up, the instructor told his friend, en espanol.

Get the right side through. “He
hit a lot of three-quarter shots, trying
to get synchronized,” says Bartolome.
“His swing seldom looks bad. He just
has to have tempo.”

Cabrera played great at Oakmont.
When he hit a 169-yard nine-iron to
mere inches at 15 on Sunday, he seemed
to be in control. Then he bogeyed the
next two holes, and it looked as if Furyk
or Tiger Woods would catch him.

The 18th fairway is not the tightest
at Oakmont, but the penalty for a short
or crooked drive is severe. With perfect
posture and rhythm (but with his head
moving), Cabrera
hit one of the greatest
pressure drives in memory, a 346-yard
bullet with a slight fade into the dead center of the fairway
that set up a par.

A few minutes later Tiger couldn’t keep it
in the short grass. Cabrera won by one.

“[Cabrera’s] really good, the way he thinks under pressure,”
Bartolome says, taking no credit for himself. “He is
one guy who goes for it.”

That is another thing Bartolome
knows not to change.


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