by Tim Dahlberg
AUGUSTA, Ga. ( Associated Press) — A still picture of him sandwiched between Trevor Immelman and Phil Mickelson is on the wall of the champion in the press building at Augusta National. His chair was empty at the champion’s dinner Tuesday night, and if there was an invitation to play the Masters this year, no one would have seen it.
As The Masters unfolds this week, Angel Cabrera sits in an Argentine prison. He is serving a two-year sentence for domestic abuse, and there’s a chance he could face an even longer sentence.
The glory of 2009 never seemed so far away.
“A lot of kids grow up without role models and make some bad decisions, they get angry,” said Houston golf pro Charlie Epps, who has a father-son relationship with Cabrera. “But that doesn’t justify doing the wrong thing.”
Cabrera was initially an unlikely champion, a street urchin who grew up without parents and never had a formal education. He was greeted by a huge crowd when he returned home after winning the 2007 US Open and a parade was held in his honor.
He then became a two-time major champion—and the first South American to win the green jacket—by winning a three-way Masters playoff in 2009. His future in golf seemed limitless.
But what was once a good story has now gone bad, and no one can predict when Cabrera will be free, much less playing golf again.
Meanwhile, Epps sees Cabrera’s vacant house in Houston and wonders how it all went wrong.
“I saw a lot in his golf, he was a perfectionist and had a temperament,” Epps said. “He never had a sports psychologist or anything like that and grew up with a chip on his shoulder. Once he got it under control, he became a champion for who he is.”
While the details of Cabrera’s case are somewhat unclear, she was charged with sexual violence with a former partner and may face additional time for allegedly threatening the woman over the phone after making the allegation. . Prosecutors are also looking into charges from two other women, including the mother of their children, and their lawyer says there is a chance they could be charged with more crimes.
It is clear that Cabrera – who was arrested in Brazil in January 2021 after prosecutors issued an international warrant for not attending his first trial – in July 2021 at his partner Cecilia Torres Mana between 2016 and 2018. He was found guilty of assault, threatening and harassing. Despite his pleas of innocence, he is not scheduled to be released from prison until next January at the earliest.
“There was no crime,” his lawyer, Carlos Herabadian, told The Associated Press via phone from Argentina on Wednesday, adding that the charges were brought “despite and out of outrage.” Heyerbedian claimed that in the reported cases “the common denominator is that there was no physical violence but an exchange of high-pitched words.”
Cabrera’s rise to the golf world wasn’t exactly a meteoric one, though it seemed at the time. Abandoned by his parents, he became a teapot at the age of 8 to earn enough money to eat and it didn’t take long for him to start the game himself.
Apes was living in Argentina at the time and Cabrera ceded to some of his friends, prompting the two to begin a relationship with Apes to serve as a coach and as the young player’s father. They would be reunited once Cabrera turned pro, working to his breakthrough victory at the 2007 US Open.
“He really wanted to get better and he saw that everyone had a coach so he asked me to help him,” Epps said. “He is a quality golfer, a quality ball striker. He is really athletic and could have been a football player or even a linebacker if he grew up around football.
The Open win established him as a major champion, even though the golfing world hasn’t fully embraced him. Even after adding the green jacket to his three-hole playoff victories against Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell, Cabrera didn’t speak English and no other player had achieved that kind of acclaim.
The player, known as El Pato (the duck) because of his unusual gait, later told reporters in Spanish that it was the dream of a lifetime.
“Unbelievable… I still can’t believe it,” he said.
Epps says he hasn’t spoken to Cabrera since being imprisoned, although he does visit the golfer’s home in Houston. He still looks forward to working with the now 52-year-old when he is released from prison and tries to restart his career on the senior tour.
“I wish the best for him and I think he has a lot of golf ahead of him,” Epps said. “I think he’ll turn out to be a better person than this. At least that’s what I hope to do.”