2 minute read

Chi Chi Rodríguez: 1935—: Golfer

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."

Additional topics

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