Rodríguez, Chi Chi: 1935—
Chi Chi Rodríguez: 1935—: Golfer
Golfer Chi Chi Rodríguez owes much of his fame to his charismatic personality, wit, and sincere generosity. He seldom won on the regular pro golfing tour. However, Rodríguez went on to win many golf victories on the Champions Tour (formerly Senior PGA).
Grew Up Poor in Puerto Rico
Juan "Chi Chi" Rodríguez was born on October 23, 1935, in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, an impoverished area near San Juan. The fifth of six children, Rodríguez contracted rickets and tropical sprue when he was four years old, both caused by vitamin deficiencies. The illness was nearly fatal and left his bones thin and very sensitive to pressure and pain. When Rodríguez was seven, his parents separated, and although his mother lived close by, the children lived with their father, Juan, Sr.
The king of one-liners, Rodríguez would later joke that he was so poor growing up that he drank his milk with a fork to make it last longer and that his house was so small there wasn't enough room to change his mind. His description was not far from the truth. Rodríguez, who often went without shoes, knew pangs of hunger and deprivation. He didn't own a toothbrush until he was a teenager, and brushed his teeth with soap and his finger or a piece of charcoal. Despite prohibitive poverty, his father, who worked 16-hour days cutting sugar cane and never made more than $18 a week, instilled in Rodríguez a deep sense of commitment to helping others. Many times Rodríguez saw his father, although hungry himself, share with an unknown child or family who, he said, needed it more. Rodríguez never forgot.
When Rodríguez was just six years old he began working in the hot, dusty sugarcane fields, earning a dime a day by carrying water to the field workers. By the time he was seven, he was making a dollar a day by digging up sugarcane fields with an ox-drawn plow. One day he happened onto the now-defunct Berwind Country Club. Although Rodríguez wasn't interested in the game of golf itself, the caddies walking alongside the well-dressed men were another matter, and when he was eight years old he became a forecaddie at Berwind. Too young to carry the bags, his job, for which he received a quarter a round, was to watch where the ball went.
At a Glance . . .
Born Juan Rodríguez, Jr. on October 23, 1935, in Rio, Piedras, Puerto Rico; son of Juan Sr.; married Iwalani, 1962; children: adopted daughter, Donnette. Military Service: U.S. Army, 1955-57.
Career: Dorado Beach, Puerto Rico, caddie, 1957-60; Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour, professional golfer, 1960-85; Champions Tour, 1985–.
Selected awards: Charles Bartlett Award, Golf Magazine, 1974; Richardson Award, Golf Writers Association of America, 1981; First Ambassador of Golf Award, 1981; Salvation Army Gold Crest Award; Byron Nelson Award, 1986, 1987; Hispanic Achievement Recognition Award, 1986; Senior Player of the Year, 1987; Senior Arnold Palmer Award, 1987; Golden Tee Award from Metropolitan Golf Writers Association, 1987; National Puerto Rican Coalition Life Achievement Award, 1987; Replica Hispanic Man of the Year, 1988; Fred Raphael Golf Achievement Award, 1988; Bobby Jones Award, 1989; Roberto Clemente Cup Award, 1989; "Caring for Kids" Award, 1990; Inducted into Florida Sports Hall of Fame, 1991; Pathfinder Award from Indiana Youthlinks, 1991; Jackie Robinson Humanitarian Award, 1991; Inducted into PGA World Golf Hall of Fame, 1992; "Good Sport Award" from Sports Illustrated for Kids, 1992; Inducted into Tampa Bay Walk of Fame, 1992; American Education Award from American Association of School Administrators, 1993; Jimmy Demaret Award from Liberty Mutual and Legends of Golf, 1993; Herb Graffis Award from National Golf Foundation, 1993; inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame, 1994; honorary doctorate, Georgetown College, Lexington, Kentucky, 1994; Grand Marshall, 106th Tournament of Roses Parade, Pasadena, California.
Addresses: Offices— PGA America, PO Box 109601, 112 Tropic Blvd., Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32082-3077; The Chi Chi Rodríguez Foundation, 3030 N. McMullen Booth Rd., Clearwater, FL 33761-3331. Website— http://www.chichi.org.
Began Playing Golf
By the time he became a full-fledged caddy, Rodríguez had become intrigued with the game of golf He would rise early to sneak out to the course to practice. On the one day of the week that caddies were allowed to play, he competed fiercely with the other boys. Filling hand-me-down oversized golf shoes with newspaper to make them fit his smaller feet, Rodríguez strutted around the course jangling pieces of broken glass in his pocket to make it sound like he had a lot of spare change.
Despite his slight size, just five-foot seven inches tall and 130 pounds, Rodríguez had incredible hand-eye coordination, even as a child. He could hit rocks and bottle caps pitched at him with a stick, and he became an expert at using a broomstick to hit bats that would fly into the house. According to the Latino Sports Legend website, he "learned how to play golf with clubs fashioned out of guava trees and tin cans hammered into balls." By the time Rodríguez stepped up to his first game of real golf, he could hit the tin-can ball more than one hundred yards.
Baseball was Rodríguez's first love, not golf. In fact, his nickname Chi Chi comes from Puerto Rican Hall-ofFamer Chi Chi Flores. Although Flores wasn't the best baseball player ever, Rodríguez admired him because he tried harder than everyone else. He would tell his friends, "I'm Chi Chi Flores," so everyone began calling him Chi Chi, and the name stuck.
Rodríguez dropped out of high school during his junior year. When he turned 19 he signed up for a two-year stint in the army, and served at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he won the post golf championship. Returning to Puerto Rico in 1957, Rodríguez spent a year working as an orderly in a psychiatric clinic. His job was helping to feed and shower the mentally ill patients. Always the benevolent caregiver, Rodríguez enjoyed his work at the clinic, but was tempted by the promise of the better life that golf could provide. Taking a caddying job at the newly opened Dorado Beach resort, where the most he ever made was $1.70 for 18 holes, he began working with golf pro Pete Cooper, a ten-time PGA winner who still toured occasionally. Cooper changed Rodríguez's grip and made him practice 50-yard wedge shots until he could make the ball bite on a rock-hard green.
Shocked and Angered With Outrageous Behavior
In 1960, underwritten by a $12,000 check from Laurance Rockefeller, part owner of Dorado Beach, the 25-year-old Rodríguez joined the PGA Tour. Accompanied by Cooper, Rodríguez met and practiced with many of the game's greats, including Sam Snead, Tommy Bolt, and Ben Hogan. In his first tour event, the 1960 Buick Open in Grand Blanc, Michigan, he was tied for the lead after the first nine holes on Sunday. A less-than-stellar 42 on the back nine dropped him down to finish ninth, but was still good enough to earn him his first paycheck of $450.
From early in his career, Rodríguez wasn't just a golfer, he was a showman and an entertainer. But he entered golf in an era that worshipped Hogan, who was known for his serious, if not dour, personality, and Rodríguez's antics were not always appreciated by other pros. He would complete a hole-ending Mexican hat dance and finish off the hat toss with a one-man tango routine, and other players began to complain that he spiked up the greens. Some even suggested that his panama hat did damage when it landed on the hole. Bantering with spectators around the course, his propensity for laughter and flamboyance was a mystery to those who partnered with him. "I don't think we were quite ready for Chi Chi," tour pro Gene Littler told Sports Illustrated. "I think he was ahead of his time." Among some pros, Rodríguez became known as the Four-Stroke Penalty because he was so distracting to other players.
Although Rodríguez never gave up his commitment to making both playing and watching golf fun, he did tone down his on-course behavior after he was confronted by Arnold Palmer during the 1964 Masters. Rodríguez held Palmer in high regard, and he took it to heart when Palmer asked him to settle down. Rodríguez credited his behavior to brash rookie immaturity, and took steps to make amends with those he had offended, making sure, for example, that he performed his antics on the green only after everyone else had finished the hole.
Accommodating those who didn't appreciate his hat trick, Rodríguez came up with a new act, using his club as if he were a matador, with the hole playing the part of the bull. After slaying the hole, he would wipe the imaginary blood from the putter shaft and slip it into his imaginary scabbard. He has been doing the same routine for four decades, and it is still expected and loved by fans. "Whenever he converts a birdie putt or executes a spectacular approach, he immediately launches into the shtick we've seen a zillion times since the early 1960s," Golf Digest noted in 2000. "No matter. The sword dance is always endearing. He's that rare entertainer with an act that never seems to grow old."
Began Winning Tournaments
Rodríguez won his first tournament in 1963 at the Denver Open. He became known for having the softest hands on the tour, with a deadly short game. Even though he was small in stature, Rodríguez created tremendous club head speed on his drives, and in his younger days could regularly drive the ball over 250 yards. His problems on the course almost always manifested themselves on the greens. His inconsistent putting almost always kept him from reaching the next plateau in golfing greatness. As it was, he only won eight tournaments during his 25 years on the PGA Tour, and averaged $40,000 in annual earnings, just over $1 million for his career.
His best year came in 1964, when Rodríguez won two tournaments and finished ninth on the money list, but the following year his game fell apart. Still mourning the death of his beloved father in 1963, Rodríguez also had a new wife, Iwalani, and her daughter, whom he adopted. Perhaps the pressure of supporting a family on his golf game was too much for Rodríguez, but he was more likely to attribute it to an article on putting he wrote for a golf publication. He got, as he put it, "paralysis by analysis." He told Sports Illustrated, "I got $50 for that article, but it cost me a million. I would get on the dance floor, but I couldn't hear the band."
Rodríguez's best finish at a major championship was a tie for sixth at the 1981 U.S. Open, although he won the Western Open in 1964, which at the time was considered a major tournament. By 1984 he was considering retirement, but he found new inspiration when Jack Nicklaus asked him to endorse a line of clubs for MacGregor Golf Company, co-owned by Nicklaus. The offer gave Rodríguez an overwhelming boast of confidence that carried him through to his 50th birthday and his stunning arrival on the Champions Tour (previously known as the Senior PGA).
Rodríguez joined the Champions Tour for the last event in 1985, and the next year he won three tournaments, finished second seven times, and took home $350,000. Although he was previously making more than $200,000 a year in endorsements, appearances, and corporate-sponsored events, this was Rodríguez's first experience making big money with his play. He credited much of his new success to putting advice given to him by well-known pro instructor Bob Toski, who saw the flaw in Rodríguez's putting stance. In 1987 Rodríguez came back to dominate the senior tour, winning seven tournaments, including the PGA Seniors' Championship, and set a record as the first player to reach $500,000 in single-season earnings. After winning a total of three tournaments in 1988 and 1989, Rodríguez won three times in 1990 and four times in 1991. His last tournament win came in 1993. By 2003 he had earned more than $6 million on the Champions Tour, for a career-earnings total of over $7 million.
Showed Compassion For Children
Despite suffering a heart attack in 1998, Rodríguez was active on the tour into the 2003 season. When not on the golf course entertaining fans, he has spent much of his time (and over $5 million of his money) on helping troubled kids overcome obstacles. In 1979 he founded the Chi Chi Rodríguez Foundation, a counseling, educational, and vocational training center for children ages five to 15 in Clearwater, Florida.
Rodríguez, who is well known for his benevolence, had the idea for the foundation after a juvenile prison guard brought a couple of inmates to watch Rodríguez play in 1979. Rodríguez invited the boys to walk along with him for a few holes, and after completing his round went back to the detention center to have dinner with them. "Seeing those kids trapped like animals inside cells broke my heart," Rodríguez told Life magazine. "I wasn't that different from them once, except that I never got caught." Rodríguez has not only supported the center with his money but with his presence as well. He makes weekly calls to Clearwater and visits the center several times a year.
As the game's master of showmanship, Rodríguez explained his performance to the Saturday Evening Post: "Golf is kind of a stuck-up sport. Therefore it's tough to be a golf fan because [a fan] can't speak, he can't even cough when a guy is hitting a shot. They have to be quiet all the time, but they pay their money and they work hard to get there, and when they come to watch, I'm going to make sure that I do something to make them laugh or make them enjoy themselves. What is life without a laugh?" That's one question Rodríguez will never know the answer to.
Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale, 1996.
Golf Digest, August 2002, p. 103.
Golf Magazine, March 2000, p. 178.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, May 19, 1995; February 10, 1996; August 11, 1998.
Life, August 1989, pp. 48-51.
People Weekly, September 21, 1987, pp. 51-53.
St. Petersburg Times, February 1999.
Saturday Evening Post, March 1989, pp. 52-53.
Sports Illustrated, November 23, 1987, pp. 38-42.
"Chi-Chi Rodriguez," Latino Sports Legends, http://www.latinosportslegends.com/chi-chi.htm (March 27, 2003).
Chi Chi Rodríguez Youth Foundation, http://www.chichi.org (March 27, 2003).
"Rodríguez, Chi Chi: 1935—." Contemporary Hispanic Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/rodriguez-chi-chi-1935
"Rodríguez, Chi Chi: 1935—." Contemporary Hispanic Biography. . Retrieved January 20, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/rodriguez-chi-chi-1935
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Rodríguez, Chi Chi
Chi Chi Rodríguez
Professional golfer Chi Chi Rodríguez has entertained generations of golf fans with his powerful drives, his victory dances, and his wisecracks. Rodríguez has been declared the longest-driving golfer ever on a pound-for-pound basis: The five-foot-seven-inch golfer, who weighed 117 pounds when he began playing on the Professional Golfers' Association (PGA) Tour in his mid-twenties, has been known to hit drives as far as 350 yards and consistently hit over 250 yards. Although he has not won a tour event since 1993 and suffered a major heart attack in 1998, Rodríguez continues to play on the Senior PGA Tour.
Life was hard for Rodríguez's family when he was a child. Rodríguez was the one of six children, and he was the sickliest. He suffered from rickets, a disease caused by vitamin deficiencies, and tropical sprue, and he nearly died of them when he was a preschooler. He still has brittle and sensitive bones as a result, but this did not stop him from participating in sports. In fact, before he became a professional golfer Rodríguez boxed and was a pitcher in a semiprofessional baseball league that included
such skilled players as Roberto Clemente . (Baseball gave Rodríguez the nickname "Chi Chi": he borrowed the name from another player, Chi Chi Flores, who was noted for his hard-working attitude.)
Rodríguez's parents separated when he was seven, and the children stayed with Rodríguez's father, Juan Rodríguez, Sr. He was a manual laborer who never earned more than $18 a week, but the younger Rodríguez remembers how his father shared their meager food with other hungry children. Rodríguez credits his father's example for his own generosity: After he became successful Rodríguez started his own foundation to help disadvantaged children, and he often passes up lucrative sponsored events to appear at charity benefits.
Rodríguez started working in the sugarcane fields for a dollar a day when he was seven, but he soon realized that better, easier money could be made working at the country club nearby. He was too small to carry a full bag of clubs, so he became a fore-caddy, a boy who watched where the customers' balls fell so that they did not have to search for them. For this job he earned 35 cents per round. As soon as he was old enough, Rodríguez became a full caddie and started playing golf himself.
Rodríguez joined the army for two years when he was 19, and then after he was discharged he came back to Puerto Rico and worked as a caretaker on a psychiatric ward. Along the way, he kept improving his golf game, even winning a base championship at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, one year. In 1957 he was hired as head caddie at the Dorado Beach resort in Puerto Rico. A professional golfer named Pete Cooper, who had won ten events on the PGA Tour, was the course pro there, and he recognized Rodríguez's natural talent and worked with him to improve his game.
After three years under Cooper's tutelage, Rodríguez was ready to try the PGA Tour himself. In 1960 Laurance Rockefeller, who was, among other things, one of the owners of Dorado Beach, gave Rodríguez $12,000 to get started, and he and Cooper headed to Michigan to play in the 1960 Buick Open. To everyone's amazement, the newcomer was tied for the lead after the open's ninth hole. His performance slipped at the end and he did not win, but he finished in the money.
The PGA Tour's Leading Comic
In the 25 years that he spent on the PGA tour, Rodríguez won a mere eight tournaments and a little over $1 million, but because of his attitude on the course Rodríguez was better known than his record would indicate. At a time when many golfers' idol was the silent, serious Ben Hogan , Rodríguez wisecracked for his gallery and did victory dances when he sank a putt.
His first signature victory dance, which involved throwing his ubiquitous snap-brimmed Panama hat over the hole, stemmed from an incident that happened when he was playing golf as a caddie. He and another boy were betting on a round. Rodríguez sank a 40-foot putt, but there was a toad in the hole and when the ball hit it, the toad hopped out, taking the ball with it and causing Rodríguez to lose a stroke. So Rodríguez started throwing his hat over the hole so the ball would not hop back out.
Some players on the PGA Tour, however, claimed that Rodríguez's hat messed up the turf around the hole, and he was asked to find another way to celebrate. This was the origin of his matador dance: Rodríguez "slays" the hole with his putter, wipes off the imaginary blood, and slides it with a flourish into his imaginary scabbard.
Into the Sunset with a Swing
In 1985 Rodríguez graduated to the Senior PGA Tour and almost immediately found much more success there than he had on the regular tour. He credits much of this improvement to a putting tip given to him by famed golf teacher Bob Toski, whom he bumped into in an airport in May 1986. Rodríguez has always been an excellent driver, but his putting was never very accurate. Toski told him to stand up straighter and to hit the ball with more downward force when he putts, which helps to eliminate sidespin. After getting that tip Rodríguez went on to win three tournaments in 1986, and in 1987 he won seven, including four in a row, and set the money-winning record for the senior tour. He would never have a year quite as good as 1987 again, but Rodríguez remained one of the dominant players on the senior tour through the early 1990s.
Despite suffering a major heart attack in 1998, Rodríguez continues to play competitive golf and to do all of the charitable work that he can, especially with the 450 abused and neglected children who are served each year by the Chi Chi Rodríguez Youth Foundation. In the grand scheme of things he sees the latter as more important, as he said in an interview with Golf Digest in 2000: "I don't care about how many tournaments I won. Winning tournaments is very important for your ego, but winning the people is very important for your soul…. I want to be remembered as a guy who was the kids' pal."
SELECTED WRITINGS BY RODRÍGUEZ:
Chi Chi's Secrets of Power Golf. New York: Viking, 1967.
(With Chuck Fitt) Everybody's Golf Book. New York: Viking, 1975.
(With John Andrisani) 101 Supershots: Every Golfer's Guide to Lower Scores. New York: Harper & Row, 1990.
|1935||Born October 23 in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico|
|1960||Turns professional and joins the PGA Tour|
|1973||Represents the United States in the Ryder Cup|
|1979||Establishes the Chi Chi Rodríguez Youth Foundation|
|1985||Joins the Senior PGA Tour|
|1998||Suffers a major heart attack in October|
(With John Anderson) Chi Chi's Golf Games You Gotta Play. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2003.
"Chi Chi: On Helping Kids, the Death of Showmanship, and Why He Just Can't Stop the Music." Golf Digest (March 2000): 178.
Diaz, Jaime. "Chi Chi Has a Last Laugh." Sports Illustrated (November 23, 1987): 38-42.
Friedman, Jack. "At 51, Chi Chi's Still Laughing: Now It's on His Way to the Bank." People Weekly (September 21, 1987): 51-53.
McCoy, Doris Lee. "Golf's Good Samaritan." Saturday Evening Post (March, 1989): 52-53.
"Chat Transcript: Chi Chi Rodriguez." PGATour.com. http://www.pgatour.com/u/ce/multi/pgatour/0,1977,3657960,00.html (January 7, 2003).
Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation. http://www.chichi.org (January 7, 2003).
"Juan 'Chi-Chi' Rodriguez." Latino Legends in Sports. http://www.latinosportslegends.com/chi-chi.htm (January 7, 2003).
Sketch by Julia Bauder
Awards and Accomplishments
|1963||Denver Open Invitational|
|1964||Lucky International Open|
|1967||Texas Open Invitational|
|1972||Byron Nelson Golf Classic|
|1973||Greater Greensboro Open|
|1981||Given Ambassador of Golf Award|
|1986||Senior Tournament Players Championship|
|1986||United Virginia Bank Seniors|
|1986||Given Hispanic Achievement Recognition Award|
|1986||Recipient of Horatio Alger Award for humanitarianism|
|1986-88||Digital Seniors Classic|
|1987||General Foods PGA Seniors' Championship|
|1987||Vantage at the Dominion|
|1987||United Hospitals Senior Golf Championship|
|1987||Silver Pages Classic|
|1987||Senior Players Reunion Pro-Am|
|1987||GTE Northwest Classic|
|1988||Doug Sanders Kingwood Celebrity Classic|
|1988||Named Hispanic Man of the Year by Replica|
|1990||Ameritech Senior Open|
|1990||Sunwest/Charley Pride Classic|
|1990-91||Las Vegas Senior Classic|
|1991||GTE West Classic|
|1991||Vintage Arco Invitational|
|1991||Murata Reunion Pro-Am|
|1992||Inducted into the PGA's World Golf Hall of Fame|
|1992||Ko Olina Senior Invitational|
|1993||Burnet Senior Classic|
|1994||Inducted into the World Humanitarian Sports Hall of Fame|
"Rodríguez, Chi Chi." Notable Sports Figures. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rodriguez-chi-chi
"Rodríguez, Chi Chi." Notable Sports Figures. . Retrieved January 20, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/sports/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rodriguez-chi-chi