April 21, 2014

Florida Icon

Icon: Juan 'Chi Chi' Rodriguez

Professional golfer, founder of Clearwater's Chi Chi Rodriguez Academy; Palm Bay; age 75

| 1/1/2011
» In Puerto Rico, I started working in the sugarcane fields when I was 7 years old. Now they call these kids slaves, but my daddy wanted a man, and he got a man.

» Meeting Mother Teresa was a great chapter of my life because I met somebody I would die for. A good friend is somebody who would stand between you and the bullet, and I would stand in front of a bullet for Mother Teresa. I spent 45 minutes with her, and those have been the best 45 minutes of my life.


Juan "Chi Chi" Rodriguez [Photo: Jay Carlson]

» We started the academy from a detention center. We took a kid out of the jail, really. Now, we help close to 1,000 kids a year. We have the only public school in the whole United States that’s funded with private funding, and we have a 99% attendance and 99% success.

» A lot of people believe that they are not lucky. They believe in luck. I believe that when they call you lucky, that’s when you know you’re good because luck is only acquired through hard work and practice.

» You might live in luxury. You might live a rich, rich life, but is it really rich? My dad was a laborer. He was the strongest man I ever knew because he worked 16 hours every day digging ditches and milking cows and you name it. When he came home, his kids used to wash his feet and massage them and dry them off and cut his toenails. That’s really rich.

» We had a golf course about 200 yards from my house, and they had sand greens, and I used to sneak in and play there. The first hole I ever played, I played with a half-ball. In the old days, you couldn’t find any golf balls to play with, so I played with a half-ball, and I made an 18 on the hole. I also used to make golf balls out of tin cans. I used to put a lead ball in the tin can, and I would hammer the can around the lead ball. Out of guava limbs, I’d make my own golf club.

» I created my own choreography on the course, the dancing, the sword fighting. I figured I was a bullfighter. There’s the bull. I stab the bull. I draw blood, and I put the club back in scabbard. In real life, I wouldn’t hurt a fly.

» Most of the fans liked me because I weighed 117 pounds and I could hit the ball over 300 yards. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing. I had tremendous club speed. Lee Trevino said I was so fast I could steal your radio and leave you the music.

» When I was a caddy, and this is a true story from the old days, if you lost a ball, they used to make you bend down on your hands and knees and look for it. I tell you, if you couldn’t find the ball, they would kick you in the butt and then they’d fire you. I never lost a ball because I didn’t want to get kicked in the butt. Nowadays, I pay my caddy $150,000 in one year, and I hit the ball and he says, ‘Where did it go?’

» They say it was harder to win in my era, when Nicklaus and Palmer were playing, but I tell you what. They won more trophies than me, but I won the fans’ heart. That to me is as big as anything.

» In my day, all we wanted to do was have our name show up in the newspaper, so we could become the head pro at a golf course.

» Rush Limbaugh, they ought to send him to Siberia, and Sean Hannity, they ought to send him to Siberia, too. That Glenn Beck, they have a nut talking about issues.

» I don’t get pleasure from playing golf anymore because I don’t play like I used to. I’m a perfectionist. I’ve been a perfectionist all my life, and when I try to hit a draw, say with a five iron, and the ball starts to draw and then all of a sudden it flattens out, I don’t care for that. I don’t think I can break 77 anymore. People say, ‘Oh, you should enjoy it.’ No. I don’t enjoy failure.

» I was a very heavy smoker, and that’s what gave me the heart attack. A doctor friend of mine, he wanted me to sue the cigarette company, which used to give me three cartons of cigarettes every week when I was on tour, but I knew the cigarettes were harmful. Why should I sue them?

» It concerns me that I just read this morning that this new guy who became governor wants to privatize the school system. I mean you can’t do that with the poor kids.

» Most of the pros live in Florida because of one reason: Taxes. They can give you all kinds of reasons, but that’s why. No taxes.

» I hit my brother with a punch, and I knocked the wind out of him when we were young kids. And that has bothered me all of my life because he was the smallest one.

» I just want to be cremated, and I want them to throw my ashes here at the academy. I want them to take the little can that my ashes were in, bury it and then put up a little plaque. I’m going to leave enough money to change the roses every week, a few roses on my tomb, and have the kids come over and say, ‘Chi Chi, he was our pal.’ That’s all I want.

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