Dinner with Chi Chi Rodriguez at Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico
DORADO, Puerto Rico – Juan “Chi Chi” Rodriguez still loves the game of golf.
I had the pleasure of sitting next to Rodriguez for dinner at the grand re-opening celebration of the East course at Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico. I’ve never met somebody who loves to laugh and joke as much as Chi Chi. Rodriguez, a World Golf Hall of Fame member who won eight times on the PGA Tour and 22 more on the Senior Tour, turns 76 next week – “four over par” he calls it. I hope I’m as spry and full of life at that age. Not even the highly publicized robbery – he and his wife were robbed at gunpoint at their home in May, 2010 – has stolen his charisma or positive outlook on life.
He’s as sharp as ever, on and off the golf course. He told me about the hole-in-one he hit last week, the 38th in his career, a 160-yard six iron. He plays three times a week, but admits he doesn’t “grind” any more.
“When I get a double bogey, I laugh about it,” he said. “I can still play on a 6,300-yard course.”
I told him I was from Michigan, and he rattled off a handful of his Michigan memories. He bought his first Cadillac in Ann Arbor.
Growing up poor in Puerto Rico, Rodriguez played in his first regular PGA Tour event at the 1960 Buick Open at Warwick Hills. He told me he double-eagled the 13th hole, and they gave him a car. He also said he led the tournament for 63 holes before “a bunch of three-putts” did him in.
“I got $460 for finishing fourth. I thought I was rich,” he recalled.
I don’t know if all his facts check out, but he wove the tale like it was just yesterday. He shared countless other stories.
The best round of golf he’s ever played? He said he shot 58 on both the East and West Course at Dorado. “They were shorter then,” he said.
He’s thrilled that the East course is being reborn. Robert Trent Jones Jr. recently renovated the course his father, Robert Trent Jones Sr., created in 1958. Rodriguez used to work at Dorado, doing all the little things before he became a golf legend: shining shoes, being a starter, working as a caddie master.
“It’s gorgeous,” he said.
That’s a ringing endorsement from the man synonymous with golf in Puerto Rico.
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