PGA Professional Charlie Epps has watched Angel Cabrera grow from an unpolished caddie in Argentina to a two-time major champion. Epps, who has been working as Cabrera's instructor since 2007, spoke with PGA.com on Monday about his years teaching Cabrera.
PGA.com: You lived in Argentina from 1954-1967. How did you first meet Angel Cabrera?
Epps: I first met Angel playing in the Argentine Open. We played practice rounds together. Plus, I grew up on the same golf course where he grew up, but 20 years apart. I really met him when he was about 18 years old as a young caddie. Then, over the years, the relationship grew because we played together. I never helped him with his game early on. But then in 2007, his manager called me and wanted to know if I would be interested in helping him with his putting, mainly just putting. That’s when it all started.
PGA.com: From a teaching standpoint, what is something that you and Angel had to overcome in order for him to have such a successful career?
Epps: He’s a perfectionist, and sometimes a missed shot bothers him more than it should. He has a hard time letting go of a bad shot and bouncing back. Even today, I told him a couple months ago, I said, ‘Angel, you’re letting things get to you too much. Your anger is hurting you.’ He said, ‘Listen, I won two majors with this attitude.’ And I said, ‘yeah, but you could have won eight more.’ So I’m always trying to teach him to be more patient with himself. And, especially now, at the age of 44, when some shots happen just because you’re 44, not because of your motor skills. He’s still really demanding of himself.
PGA.com: What element of Cabrera’s game do you believe has improved the most since you’ve been working with him?
Epps: All I can help Angel with is practice, training more, spending more time putting. We were able to use a couple of teaching aids that accomplished what I want him to do without having him have to think. See, he grew up as young caddie, who No. 1) he wasn’t allowed on the golf course, so he’d sneak on the golf course. And No. 2) there was no driving range, so they were just players. They never hit balls. They saw each other’s swing, and this area where he comes from there were some great golfers. And so he learned with his eyes and not with his thoughts.
The one people who don’t put up to their expectations. They go to the practice green, and if they don’t make some putts, they leave out of frustration. Well, there’s a teaching device called "Inside Down the Line" by Momentus. And in 2009, I got that and I was able to get him in a training cycle, where he could make 100 putts in a row. The training device helped me control his path more. Like most people, he liked right-to-left putts. But left-to-right putts were very difficult for him. This allowed me to get him to aim correctly, control the path and have the face square to the direction the ball needed to go. It’s worked quite well.
PGA.com: How did you celebrate after Cabrera’s win at The Greenbrier Classic?
Epps: We flew home to Houston late last night, because on Friday we go to the British Open. It was just he and I on a private plane, having a few adult beverages and reminiscing of all the hard work he’s put in over the last few months. There were a few months there where we weren’t getting a lot out of a round, shooting some 72s, 73s, missing the cut by one. But we both knew that it was close. It was close at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. He went on to the Travelers (Championship) and finished 11th, and then he went to Congressional and finished in the top 20. Golf is so much about momentum and making the par putts at the right time is what really keeps round going. Yesterday afternoon (Sunday), he hit his worst drive of the tournament on No. 2, but ended up making a great 4. That really, really was the turning point of that round, and he just went on to play an incredible round of golf.
PGA.com: How does Cabrera’s game set up for Hoylake?
Epps: He can flight the ball as well as anyone, and he’s healthy. In 2010, we went to St. Andrews, and he had tendonitis in his thumb so bad that he didn’t play for three months in the fall of 2010. Last year, he had some problems with his shoulder and really didn’t play for four months. You really put some wear and tear on your body, playing as much golf as he has over the years. But now he’s pretty healthy.
You can follow Epps on Twitter @TheGolf_Doctor
In a matter of minutes on Sunday, George McNeill experienced the highest of highs professionally and the lowest of lows personally.
First, McNeill began the final round of the Greenbrier Classic trailing leader Billy Hurley III by seven shots then went out and fired a 9-under 61 in the final round with a stretch that -- beginning on the fourth hole -- went birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie, hole-in-one. That's right -- 6 under in a five-hole stretch.
McNeill grabbed the clubhouse lead and would have to wait to see if that lead would hold and he'd win, if it would be close but no cigar, or if he was headed to a playoff.
After the round, CBS analyst grabbed McNeill for an interview that was brief, yet revealing for the man who had just recorded his lowest ever round on the PGA Tour.
"I know it's really difficult, and I will not press the issue with you," Kostis said. "But sometimes perspective comes in different forms, doesn't it?"
McNeill was choked up.
"It does," said the 38-year-old, two-time PGA Tour winner. "Yeah, you go out and, you know, golf doesn't really mean a whole lot. So it's hard. I played good today. And got finished, and you know, it was a nice middle part of the round. And so like I said, you know, golf doesn't mean a whole lot sometimes."
That's where the lowest of lows come into play.
George McNeill called his family back home in Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday morning, prior to competing in the final round of The Greenbrier Classic.
This had become a regular ritual, continuously checking in with them to receive an updated status report on Michele, the oldest of five McNeill siblings.
Only 46, Michele wasn’t doing well.
Two years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy, followed by radiation and chemotherapy. It was a lengthy battle, but eventually doctors offered some good news. She was finally cancer-free.
But, as Sobel wrote, last November Michele began having trouble with her speech. Doctors found a tumor on her brain and performed surgery to remove it.
About a month and a half ago, Sobel reported, the cancer had spread throughout her brain, in her spinal fluid and spine. After a few days, Michele was paralyzed from the waist down and spent the last few weeks in a wheelchair.
Needless to say, McNeill knew the end was near for his sister.
Little did he know, however, that when he did that post-round interview with Kostis, his big sister was already gone.
Michele died at 11:35 a.m. on Sunday, 20 minutes before McNeill's tee time.
Again, McNeill didn't know what had transpired until after his round. Sobel asked, how, under such awful circumstances, was he able to maintain focus and turn in his best score on Tour to date.
"I don't know... I really don't know," he told Sobel said. "I'd be over a putt and she's going through my head.
"Maybe it was good that I had something else in my thought. I knew what I was doing, I was aware of what I was doing, but it really wasn't the first and foremost thing that I was concentrating on."
McNeill would finish the tournament alone in second place. Understandably, you've never seen a person less outwardly enthusiastic about having a hole-in-one, shooting a 61 and finishing second all on the same day.
What a tough, tough day for the McNeill family.
Not to be outdone by two hole-in-ones earlier in the day, Angel Cabrera makes magic of his own Sunday at the Greenbrier Classic, holing a 175-yard shot for eagle on No. 13.
Watch this shot:
George McNeill made an ace at No. 8 en route to a final-round 61. Then less than an hour later, Bud Cauley aced No. 18 -- with golf legend Tom Watson looking on -- to finish up with a 64.
PAIR OF ACES: McNeill, Cauley make holes-in-one Sunday at Greenbrier
Greenbrier's Old White TPC was the place for a pair of aces in Sunday's final round.
First, George McNeill -- who had strung together four consecutive birdies -- made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 234-yard eighth hole. Here's a virtual representation of McNeill's shot, and his scorecard at the time:
George McNeill parred his first three holes, and is a birdie away from going out in 27 pic.twitter.com/cLrxFVWJqn
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) July 6, 2014
Less than an hour later, Bud Cauley stepped up to the teeing ground at No. 18, and here's what happened:
A walk-off 1 on the final hole of the tournament, completing a round of 6-under 64, and even more special, a handshake from golfing legend Tom Watson, who happened to witness the shot. Here's Cauley's tweet afterward:
lucky me! icing on the cake to hit that shot in front of a legend and Ryder cup captain Tom Watson… http://t.co/KwbB79eNoj
— Bud Cauley (@BudCauley) July 6, 2014