Charlie Epps Discusses How Angel Cabrera Went From Major Winner to Serving Prison Time
Charlie Epps worked with Angel Cabrera, coaching him through multiple victories. Even though the two stopped working together 5 years ago, Cabrera still holds a special place in Epps’ heart. His favorite nickname for the golfer was “Gordita” playfully referring to Cabrera’s stature.
Cabrera, the 2007 U.S. Open champ and 2009 Masters champ, is 52 and should be cleaning up on PGA Tour Champions, a second act of one of the most remarkable rags to riches stories in all of sports.
“This kid was poorer than poor,” Epps said. “He came from nothing.”
However, something unexpected happened with Cabrera. Instead of soaking up his fame and being recognized as an accomplished player, he faces a plethora of charges relating to accusations from women he was involved with. Cabrera is dealing with his legal troubles in Argentina, where he is from originally. Prosecutors charge that Cabrera “assaulted, threatened and harassed Cecilia Torres Mana between 2016 and 2018.” He faces a total of six other domestic violence-related charges and at least one other former partner of his is alleging he committed similar behavior, according to Reuters.
He has been in jail since January when Brazil’s federal police arrested him on an Interpol warrant. He had been on the “red list,” which is used to seek the arrest of a person wanted by a legal jurisdiction or an international tribunal with a view to extradition.
Cabrera last competed on the Champions Tour at the Pure Insurance Open in September 2020.
Epps spoke exclusively to Golfweek at Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, Texas, where he serves as president of the Spirit Golf Association, and conducted the Spirit International last week.
Q: How do you explain what has happened to Cabrera?
A: He was born without a mother (in his upbringing), born without a father who loved him, raised in the streets of a very poor town and left school at age 8. He never had any discipline, and he learned a lot of bad habits. He was a hustler, a kid from the streets and he started drinking way too soon. One of his enemies is the alcohol. He wouldn’t listen to anybody.
I settled him down. He trusted me. When we started, his putting was poor. When we went to defend his U.S. Open title at Torrey Pines in 2008, I knew he wasn’t going to play well. He duck-hooked his first shot. I’d never seen him do that in all the time I’d known him. He shot 77.
What does a coach say? For some reason I looked him in the eyes and I said, ‘You’re so good you can win the Masters.’ He looked at me and said, ‘How?’ I said, ‘You’ve got to listen to me when we practice, and you’ve got to practice hard and you’ve got to learn how to putt.’ He said, ‘OK.’ From that day, we started practicing putting for an hour and a half after every round. We got him in a routine. We used the putting track (training aid) and I set up drills where he had to make 100 in a row. Bad putters never practice. If I showed him how to make putts, it gave him a sense of confidence more than normal. That’s all he needed. He could hit the ball as good as Hogan.
Q: When is the last time you talked to him?
A: On December 28, 2020. He was having trouble with his Visa. He was having trouble with his wrists and he went to some senior tournaments and he couldn’t play. I kept taking him to the doctors and we found out he had a problem with his nerves that had compacted in his elbow. So, they performed a surgery where they relieved the pressure of the nerve and the pain went away. He started practicing again just a little.
Then he went home (to Cordoba, Argentina) for three months and got into some more trouble. Not his wife but his common-law live-in filed another suit against him. He wanted to go back and start playing again in the U.S., but COVID set in and there weren’t many flights. He drove to Buenos Aires, where there were four flights a week going to Miami, so, he bought a ticket and left the country (without permission). The judge who was involved in his cases decided to make an example of him. She put out a bulletin with Interpol for his arrest – serious stuff.
He had to leave (the U.S.) in December to get his Visa renewed. He chose to go to Brazil because there’s no extradition. He thought he would be in the clear, but Interpol didn’t see it that way. As soon as he landed in Brazil, two days later they put him in prison. And that’s when all the shit started.
He spent six months there. Bad place. He got beat up. They didn’t care that he was Angel Cabrera. I had a lot of people approach me that they could get him out for $100,000 or this and that. We didn’t want to do that. I’ve got a friend I grew up with who does a lot of business in Buenos Aires. He had a meat-packing business and sold to Brazilians for big money. Carlos, my buddy, called them and said, ‘We’ve got to get this kid out of jail.’ So, they were able to do it.
They extradited him to Argentina, where they put him in jail again. The judge, she’s after him. So, he’s been in prison there for a couple of months. In the town of Villa Allende, they had a big parade on his behalf. ‘Let Pato out of jail! Let Pato out of of jail! He’s never done anything wrong. He’s never hurt anybody! His foundation has given away millions of dollars.’ The next day, the judge published all of his records and said, ‘This is why I’m not letting him out. He has to pay his price (for his wrongdoings).’
In Argentina, if you get a two-year sentence and it’s your first offense, it’s usually suspended. But she gave him 2 years and a month. Officially, he’s supposed to get out January of 2023. Any day now, we’re still waiting, they will let him out for good behavior and he’ll be able to do the remainder of his sentence at home (under house arrest).
He sends me messages some. But he’s embarrassed. This has been a horrible experience. But hopefully it will teach him. I hope he doesn’t come out with vengeance. Bottom line: he lacked good judgment from his tough upbringing, but he’s a strong-minded kid and that’s why he was able to do what he did in golf.
Q: When did you realize he’d have the chance to be a success as a golfer?
A: I did a clinic at the Argentine Open one year. It was Cabrera, Vijay Singh, Eduardo Romero and Craig Stadler. We were on the back of the 18th tee and we had this driving contest. I had followed him a lot, played with him and all that, but he stood up and hit a drive that was something special. Right then, I knew I had screwed up. I could’ve been in his camp years before. We were going to back him financially in 1993 but when I went to watch him his anger was really out of place and he was rude to everybody. He didn’t have any manners. When he played golf, he didn’t care. When I saw him swing and hit that driver I thought if I ever get a second chance, I’m going to help him.
Then, in 2006, his manager called me on his behalf. He had been playing in Europe and he wanted to come to the United States and wanted help with his putting. We started working together 3 months before he won the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 2007. I was able to befriend him and the rest as they say is history.
We still take care of his house and his finances here in the U.S., I still love the guy. If he comes out, I’ll help him however I can. His wife says he’s going to end up right where he started – on the streets. I don’t want to let that happen.
Q: Do you think being away from golf for this time and being a few years older that he can still be successful on the PGA Tour Champions?
A: That’s the $64,000 question. The first five years on the Champions Tour sets the tone. He’s going to be almost five years into it. He’s born in 1969. He’ll be 54. He’s strong enough, but he hasn’t done any exercise. We don’t know how he’ll respond to so many unanswered questions.
After Tiger’s troubles and stuff like that, I don’t think the Masters can suspend him. I think he’ll have his exemption there. I don’t know what the PGA Tour is going to do with his prison record.
Q: What’s your fondest memory of your time together?
A: When he put the Green Jacket on me Sunday night (after winning the Masters in 2009), that was neat. It was 2:15 in the morning.
We went over to the English Open right after we won the Masters and we go to this hotel and we leave the hotel and we’re going back wherever we were going and he says, ‘I left the Green Jacket in the hotel.’ We turned the car around and went back and got it from the hotel and then he says, ‘Here, you keep it.’ I had it for the rest of the year.
He was incredibly generous to me. I wish I could’ve done more for him. I couldn’t get him off the drinking. He was a binge drinker. He didn’t drink every day. When we won his majors, he didn’t drink those weeks. But then he’d go out and get on a binge. One year, at his course in Argentina, he shot 60 and he couldn’t see.
Q: Remind me again, what was the liquor he liked to mix with Coca-Cola?
A: Fernet. It’s about 47 percent proof. It will knock your socks off. He stopped drinking that. He told me he got hooked on vodka.
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