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AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — His photo still hangs on the Wall of Champions in the press building at Augusta National, sandwiched between Trevor Immelman and Phil Mickelson. His chair at the champion’s dinner on Tuesday night was empty, however, and if there was an invitation to play the Masters this year, no one saw it.
As the Masters unfolds this week, Angel Cabrera is in an Argentinian prison. He is serving a two-year sentence for domestic violence, and he faces an even longer sentence.
The glory of 2009 never seemed so far away.
“A lot of kids grow up without role models and make bad decisions, their anger inside them takes over,” said Charlie Epps, a golf pro from Houston who has a father-son relationship with Cabrera. “But that doesn’t justify doing the wrong thing.”
Cabrera was an unlikely champion to begin with, a street kid who grew up without parents and never had a formal education. A huge crowd greeted him when he returned home after winning the 2007 US Open and there was a parade in his honor.
Then he became a two-time major champion – and the first South American to win a green jacket – by winning a three-way Masters playoff in 2009. His future in golf seemed limitless.
But what was once a feel-good story has now gone awry, and no one can predict when Cabrera will be free, let alone play golf again.
Meanwhile, Epps looks at Cabrera’s vacant Houston home and wonders how it all went wrong.
“I saw a lot of that in his golf, he was a perfectionist early on and had a temper,” Epps said. “He never had a sports psychologist or anything like that and he grew up with a chip on his shoulder. Once he got it under control, he became the champion he is.
While the details of Cabrera’s case remain somewhat hazy, he has been charged with gender-based violence with a former partner and could face further time for allegedly threatening the woman over the phone after being charged. Prosecutors are also looking at allegations from two other women, including the mother of his children, and his lawyer says there is a chance he could be charged with other crimes.
What is clear is that Cabrera – who was arrested in Brazil in January 2021 after prosecutors issued an international warrant for failing to attend his first trial – was found guilty in July 2021 of assaulting , threatened and harassed Cecilia Torres Mana, his partner between 2016 and 2018. He should not be released from prison until next January at the earliest, despite his pleas of innocence.
“There was no crime,” his lawyer, Carlos Hairabedian, told The Associated Press by phone from Argentina on Wednesday, alleging the charges were brought “out of spite and resentment.” Hairabedian claimed that in the cases reported “the common denominator is that there was no physical violence but an exchange of resounding words”.
Cabrera’s rise in the world of golf hasn’t exactly been meteoric, although it seemed like it at the time. Abandoned by his parents, he became a caddy at the age of 8 to earn enough money to eat and wasted no time in getting into the game himself.
Epps was living in Argentina at the time, and Cabrera caddyed for some of his friends, which led to the two beginning a relationship with Epps serving as an instructor and father figure for the young player. They would reconnect after Cabrera turned professional, the job leading to his decisive victory at the 2007 US Open.
“He really wanted to improve and he saw that everyone had a coach, so he asked me to help him,” Epps said. “He’s a quality golfer, a quality ball hitter. He’s really athletic and could have been a footballer, or even a linebacker if he had grown up around football.
Winning the Open established him as a great champion, even if the golf world hasn’t fully embraced him. Cabrera spoke no English and never seemed to earn the kind of praise another player might get, even after adding the green jacket with his three-hole playoff win over Kenny Perry and Chad Campbell.
The player known as el Pato (the duck) because of his unusual gait told reporters in Spanish afterwards that it was his life’s dream.
“Unbelievable…I still can’t believe it,” he said.
Epps says he hasn’t spoken to Cabrera since he was jailed, although he’s been watching the home the golfer owns in Houston. He still holds out hope of working with the 52-year-old when he is released from prison and is trying to resume his career on the senior circuit.
“I want the best for him and I think he’s got a lot of golf ahead of him,” Epps said. “I think he will come out better. At least that’s the hope.
Associated Press writer Almudena Calatrava contributed from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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