Angel Cabrera: Shoeless 'slumdog' to millionaire

Born in a shanty town, Angel Cabrera has won one of the most lucrative titles in sport. James Corrigan tells his story – from rags to Green Jacket

There are now two professionals competing on the Tours proper with a Green Jacket and a US Open title to their name. It is fair to say, however, the pair were in wildly different moods yesterday as they reflected on a Sunday night of the highest drama.

First there is Tiger Woods, Mr Sour himself. The world No 1 must have been the only person on the planet who did not take any enjoyment whatsoever from the "Tiger and Phil show", as he and Mickelson pegged back the leaders on the last day of the Masters with all the certainty of the tortoise and that hare. In fact, Woods detested it and made no secret of his disgust. With his ill-advised "I almost won with a band-aided swing" statement, he not only managed to pour scorn on his coach Hank Haney – with whom there are the first real signs of tension – but also, of course, on the validity of the achievement of the champion. Not that Angel Cabrera would care.

The Argentine is not what one would call expressive and a feature, perhaps the feature, of his play-off victory was his ability to take it all in that loping stride of his.

But then, where Cabrera comes from feelings are prone to stay hidden. In his Cordoba shanty town the glory comes in the survival. Those harsh beginnings have led to Cabrera, who won $1.35m here, being labelled golf's "Slumdog Millionaire". "My parents didn't have any plans for me," explained Cabrera, after denying Kenny Perry on the second sudden-death hole. "Economically, it was rough. We were poor. There was no money for school so there was really nothing for me to do. There was not much hope of any kind of future.

"I wasn't able to finish primary school. I became a caddie when I was 10 to put some food on the table, so that's why probably these moments are enjoyed even more than the common things. I definitely had to play golf to make a living, to feed my two kids and wife. I had no other option."

The Cabrera tale is one of the most lovingly told in the privileged locker rooms. The agent Chubby Chandler has become a close friend of the 39-year-old. "When Angel first turned up at the golf club to ask for a job, he didn't even have any shoes," said the manager of Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy. "It is probably why they called him 'el Pato' – 'the Duck' – because of his big feet. He is a lovely lad and deserves all this for clawing his way up from such a poor background. It is a real rags-to-riches story."

But there was a lot more to it than the merely personal. His country would have seen the hand of God at work. Augusta, they felt, owed Argentina. In 1968, the year before Cabrera was born, their Open champion Roberto De Vicenzo wrongly signed for a four instead of a three – and missed out on a play-off with Bob Goalby by a single shot. It was then that De Vicenzo uttered the immortal line: "What a stupid I am." Now in his eighties, De Vicenzo has inevitably taken a close interest in Angel's ascent.

"When I won the US Open, Roberto gave me a picture where he has in his hand a Green Jacket," revealed Cabrera. "And he said, 'I hope this gives you luck so some day you can bring back a Green Jacket for yourself.' It's not going to change what happened to him. But this win, to take it back home ... well it's really going to help the game in our nation."

Golf in Argentina has already undergone something of a revolution in the last decade, with new courses being built and the working classes being encouraged. The impact of Cabrera should not be underestimated. While his major breakthrough at Oakmont two years ago was greeted with phone calls from the president, the chaqueta verde is in a different league. The Masters holds a special place in the hearts of his countrymen, dwarfing even the Open Championship in its importance. Cabrera admitted, however, that he still has some way to go before he joins the biggest Argentinian sporting superstars. "The Masters is the Masters – what I do is what I do," he said. "What Diego Maradona does or [the basketball star] Manu Ginobili does is their game. Football has always been the biggest sport in my country. I won the Masters, but that's not going to change football's status there."

Cabrera's status, though, has definitely changed. The guts he showed on the first extra hole identified him as one of the coolest performers in the golfing cauldron. His chief inspiration is Seve Ballesteros and the Spaniard would have been proud of how his friend extricated himself from a seemingly impossible position behind a tree to the right of the 18th fairway.

Cabrera had no option but to take a lunge and it somehow found the fairway. "I had this much room," he said, indicating a foot with his hands. "All I can say is that the gap was bigger than the ball. You need luck sometimes."

There was nothing lucky about his sand-wedge into six feet or indeed the clutch putt down the slope. All it took then was for Perry's nerve finally to give and Angel was back in his heaven, just as he had been in Pittsburgh almost two years before.

Yet there was something different on this occasion. At Oakmont, he dealt with the pressure by chain-smoking. "Some players have sports psychologists, others have God, I have Marlboros," he famously said. This time there was no outside help. Cabrera has given up the cigarettes, although the paunch will confirm the gym remains a no-no.

That was doubtless where Woods was yesterday as he dealt with his frustrations. On Saturday, he was seen "having words" with Haney as his swing continued to fail him. His mood had not improved by Sunday evening, despite his starring role in a compelling duel.

"I hit it so bad today warming up – I was hitting quick hooks, blocks, you name it," said the American, who finished tied sixth, his worst placing at Augusta since 2004. "I hit it all on the range and then on the very first hole I almost hit it into the eighth fairway. It's one of the worst tee shots I have ever hit starting out. I fought my swing all day and just kind of band-aided around and almost won the tournament with a band-aid swing today. It was just terrible. I don't know what was going on."

Woods will surely figure it out by the Players Championship in Sawgrass in three weeks' time. Cabrera will be there waiting for him.

All about Angel: Cabrera's career

Age: 39

Place of birth: Cordoba, Argentina

Height: 6ft 1in

Weight: 15st

Turned pro: 1989

Tour wins: 2001 Open de Argentina, 2002 Benson & Hedges International Open, 2005 BMW International Open

Major wins: 2007 US Open, 2009 Masters

World golf ranking before the Masters: 69

Ranking after Masters: 18

*He is the first Argentine to don the Green Jacket in Masters history.

*He's known affectionately as "El Pato" (the Duck), a reference to his waddling gait.

*In 39 major tournaments, he has eight top 10 finishes and has failed to make the cut on 12 occasions.

*In majors where he has made the cut, his average finish is 25th.

*For his first major victory, Cabrera came from four shots behind heading into the final round at the Oakmont Country Club in 2007, to win with a score of five over par, one stroke clear of Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk.

*Cabrera was the only player to card an under-par round twice in the 2007 US Open –only eight under-par rounds were managed throughout the entirety of the tournament.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week