The powerful Cabrera is no one-shot wonder
Looking back on last season and ahead to 2008, I expect to see Argentina's Angel Cabrera build on his U.S. Open victory and tally a few more wins.
I played with Angel in the BMW in Germany a few years ago and got to know him some. He is actually a very well-rounded player, with fifteen or so worldwide wins, and he's got great character as a competitor. He's completely self-coached, which I'd imagine has contributed to his confidence in his golf swing. The way he went around Oakmont was so impressive: You look at his talent and his style of play and it does make sense that he could keep it very together on an extremely tough course.
His power through the ball is one thing you notice, and then his ball flight is ridiculous. It just keeps going up and up and up. At the BMW, we came to a par three that was 212 yards to the pin, and Angel fired one that landed a bit past the hole and rolled off the back. I took a look at his club—a six-iron. So I slid my three-iron back in the bag and said to myself, "Well, maybe I can reach with a four-iron."
Another time, when I played with him in a practice round at Augusta, he asked me for a line over the trees to cut off a dogleg. I stuck my arm out straight like a gull's wing to show him, and he hit right up and over on just that line. After that I was sticking my arm out all day to show him what trees to pound it over.
His shoulders are very strong—he's got that stocky build—but his style is fluid. He has a bit of lag in his takeaway. That's his little move to get things started. You see this a lot in South American players. They're slinky in their movements, very relaxed as they go to hit. They'll be chatting away, and then they give it a slap. That attitude can create wonderful freedom. Angel draws it away like a painter waving his paintbrush.
Ian Connelly, my first teacher, told me that you've always got to have some kind of movement as you're preparing to make your swing. You can't be static. Some people need lots of movement, or it can be as simple as a little squeeze of the grip that starts you off. Nicklaus, Tiger—you don't see much with them, but most likely they do the same tiny thing each time.
Like a lot of little movements in the golf swing, that lag move can be overdone. In Angel's case, I suspect it can throw him off at times. He made one swing when I was playing with him—it was a long, tough shot from a difficult lie on a par five—and there was no lag at all in the takeaway. Everything was in unison. He pulled off a great golf shot. "Angel," I told him afterward, "that's the swing. Bottle that one."
I have a feeling Angel will keep bubbling along just under the surface as he has been—only now in a more high-profile manner. He's not a player you can pick to win on any given week. His stars have to align. But on that week when everything's all lined up, you won't be able to stop him. He'll play his attacking style, and he'll just score all day long.
Angel is a very generous man, as well. Someone told me about a camp that he and Eduardo Romero have up in the villages of central Argentina, where they feed hundreds of kids every day. It's nothing formal or official; they just see to it all themselves. I don't believe it's something you can look up anywhere, because he doesn't want to publicize it. But it's a great thing that they do, feeding all those kids—not a small group of kids, not dozens of kids, but literally hundreds of kids who would otherwise be going hungry.
One point about Angel and his putting is that he remains aggressive on superfast greens. That's a point many people don't understand. They see that a green is Stimping at thirteen and don't realize that a confident player will still putt aggressively. He won't be wincing and worrying and thinking, "Oh, I just have to touch this and barely get it going." He will still make a stroke that has a real purpose, and he'll visualize the ball getting up very snug to the hole or picture it banging in.
Nick Faldo's witty insights about golf and candid assessments of fellow Tour professionals can be heard on the following scheduled telecast:
January 17–20, Bob Hope Chrysler Classic (Golf Channel)
January 24–27, Buick Invitational, Torrey Pines (Golf Channel and CBS)
February 2–3, FBR Open, TPC Scottsdale (CBS)
February 7–10, AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (Golf Channel and CBS)
February 14–17, Northern Trust Open, Riviera Country Club (Golf Channel and CBS)
February 21–24, WGC–Accenture Match Play Championship, Gallery Golf Club at Dove Mountain (Golf Channel)
What amateurs need to know
I see more caddie programs these days, and that means that people who aren't used to playing with a caddie may be in need of some pointers. If you're new to it, you can feel a bit self-conscious at first, but I think most amateurs look forward to the experience. Caddies are often interesting characters, and if they know what they're doing, they can get you around in a better score. But you've got to know what you're doing, as well. Here's some advice:
Ease into the relationship.
Caddies don't know your tendencies and you don't know theirs. One approach is to say, "Let's start out with me asking questions and you answering." So when you come to your ball in the first fairway, you ask only the yardage. Then you decide to hit a seven-iron, and the caddie doesn't feel obliged to say, "Maybe it's the six," or, "Maybe it's the eight."
On the first couple of greens, ask which way the putt breaks—but not how much.
Because the caddie won't know whether you tend to charge your putts or die them up by the hole, and that has a big effect on how much break to play. Lately I've played some rounds at the Ritz-Carlton, Jupiter, and the caddies there know their greens cold, so when I ask them for a definite line, I'll get it. But other times I'm better off figuring out the amount of break myself.
The better a player you are, the less you'll be able to accept the caddie's suggestion when your instincts tell you differently.
Those doubts are going to be there no matter what, even if you're committed to the plan. It's very difficult to hit a soft five-iron when you wish you had the six in your hand. What tends to happen is you ease up on your turn, the hands get ahead, and you hit a nice big pull.
If you're playing for high stakes and your caddie is into the match, you have to hope he's a good actor.
Because there will be times he doubts you can pull off the shot. I had that problem with Fanny Sunesson early on. I'd be making birdies and she'd hand me clubs full of conviction. But when the swing got shaky, she would hand me a club and her voice would be kind of weak: "It's the . . . six. . . . Go right at the, um, flag." Not exactly inspiring. She worked on that over the years and became a better actor.
The poor caddie is the one who tries to sway you instead of giving you what you need to make a sound assessment.
And if you get one who keeps up the argument after you've played your shot—you know, "I told you it was a six"—that's the worst. In the end, it's your responsibility. You can't forget that. The buck stops with you.
It will come in handy on tough tee shots
I've been asked this question more than once by amateur golfers: When you have to hit the fairway on an awkward driving hole and you're under pressure, how do you go about it?They're not talking about a career drive—just a shot that's out there someplace on the short grass.
One drill that may help in this situation is to practice hitting drivers without a tee. The first time you do it, just try a few balls at the end of your practice session and see what happens. It's one of the few things in golf you can try and not feel bothered if it doesn't work, because it's not really supposed to. So make a few passes and forget about it. Then try it again next time, even placing the ball on a little bump if you like. Once they start to fly nicely, you can spend some additional time hitting these driver shots off the deck.
I did this a lot over the years and found that the confidence it gave me was amazing—it made hitting a ball off a tee seem ridiculously easy! Recalling those practice shots really helps on pressure drives. Doing so always gave me extra confidence and a sense of just "collecting" the ball at impact.
Here are some other tips to help you when you really need to find the short grass off the tee:
Hit your natural shot.
The hole is probably awkward for you because it doesn't fit your natural ball flight. It sets up for a right-to-left shot shape, for example, and you play a draw. I say play your natural shot and make it fit somehow. If clubbing down to the three-wood helps, do that. Don't stand over the shot saying to yourself, "I've never done this before, but maybe I can pull it off now." You won't be able to.
Loosen up and just "freewheel" one.
Get relaxed and take a full, confident swing. I've had rounds where I was trying to hit conservative positional drives and getting nowhere, and I've switched up and gotten aggressive and had better results. My thought when I do this is to increase the momentum of the swing. I don't feel like I'm swinging hard, just increasing the momentum.
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