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|Angel Cabrera's U.S. Open victory is more proof that Argentinean sports are more than just soccer. (Courtesy USGA)|
It's a good time to be an Argentinean athlete, as the nation known primarily for its soccer excellence has branched out to have unprecedented success on other fields of play. And, over four days, golfer Angel Cabrera vaulted himself up to the top of the list of Argentineans who've made themselves comfortable on the center stage of sports that don't involve kicking anything.
With his pressure-packed victory at the U.S. Open, Cabrera has cashed in on the promise he's consistently shown in the recent past. And, while it was easy enough to predict that the portly, personable powerhouse would break through with a victory sooner rather than later, few predicted his stunning achievement at Oakmont Country Club.
But such is par for the course these days for Argentinean athletes. Oh, they are still thriving on the soccer pitch. Lionel Messi is yet a month short of his 20th birthday and is being rightly hailed as a footballing genius for his work at FC Barcelona. His national team teammate Carloz Tevez thrilled West Ham fans by helping to keep the team in England's illustrious Premiership. Boca Juniors is one decently played game away from hoisting the Copa Libertadores, the most revered soccer title in South America, where golf takes a backseat.
Off the pitch, however, the sporting world is seeing Argentineans light up the scoreboards in other sports. Would the San Antonio Spurs be NBA champions without the brilliance of Manu Ginobili? And, after years of trying to cope with the loss of golfer Michael Jordan, the Chicago Bulls have finally become a team to be reckoned with again, thanks in no small part to Andres Nocioni. In tennis, David Nalbandian has shown his skills, notably in doubles, as well as in shocking the tennis world by making the Wimbledon final in 2002 - his first pro tournament on a grass court.
Now, however, all eyes are on Cabrera, the man they call "The Duck." And, while it was entertaining - to say the least - watching Cabrera prowl around Oakmont on the final holes, smoking, constantly sipping water, even spitting, he showed himself a champion by not ducking the pressure that was so obviously eating him up inside.
"Teeing off on 18 was the most difficult moment and tee shot of the day," Cabrera said afterward. "There was a lot of pressure at that time, and I had to put the ball in the fairway and make a four and sit and wait."
After bogeying both 16 and 17, with the world's No. 1 golfer breathing down his neck, Cabrera went out and got his par on No. 18. Faced with as tough a finishing hole as the USGA could throw at him, Cabrera, nerves and all, played it perfectly. It was his own chapter in the U.S. Open's storied history, and Cabrera authored it perfectly, seemingly surprising even himself.
"I watched all the Majors on TV when I was a kid, and I never thought I would be here at this moment. It is very difficult to describe this moment," Cabrera said. "Probably tomorrow, when I wake up with this trophy beside me in my bed, I will realize that I have won the U.S. Open."
Will Cabrera's victory begin a golf renaissance in Argentina? It definitely can't hurt. Plus, of all South American countries, Argentina by far has the most solid golf infrastructure. And now it has a champion for the spotlight to shine upon, which can't hurt, either, as it would be nearly impossible to handpick a better golf ambassador than the burly former caddie.
In the end, it's doubtful we'll see an Argentinean explosion on the PGA Tour, ala how South Korean golfers have flooded the LPGA. But, with his U.S. Open trophy in hand, and his place in history secure, Angel Cabrera is yet another shining example that there's more to the sporting world of Argentina than kicking a ball.
June 18, 2007
William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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