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Chi Chi Rodríguez: 1935—: Golfer

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.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Dudley Randall Biography - A Poet from an Early Age to Ferrol Sams Jr BiographyChi Chi Rodríguez: 1935—: Golfer Biography - Grew Up Poor In Puerto Rico, Began Playing Golf, Shocked And Angered With Outrageous Behavior