Nor does anyone take the criticism of his fellow pros quite as hard as Chi Chi does. It can make him, all at the same time, sad, lonely and despondent. Sometimes it makes him want to quit the tour and go home to Puerto Rico. And sometimes it makes him become the Chi Chi Rodriguez that no one knows. Perhaps the real one.
When a round of tournament golf is ended, the Chi Chi few people ever see takes over. While the other players go directly to the locker or the grill to replay the round, eat, drink and relax, Chi Chi disappears.
"There are always three places where I can find him," says Doc Griffin, the PGA's traveling press secretary. "He'll be sitting off in a lonely part of the clubhouse grounds, talking to kids. Or he'll be watching television in his motel room. He'll watch anything. Popeye, anything. Or he'll be gone to some other sports event with Ken Still."
"Ken Still," said Chi Chi last month as he sat in his room in Columbus in the Howard Johnson's East Motel and watched Popeye, "is the best friend I got. You never heard of him, but he's a great player from Tacoma who hasn't won much. We travel a lot together. He even follows me when he isn't playing. A good friend. He's a great sports fan. He's for the Dodgers and I'm for the Giants, and we really have fun."
Fun, says Chi Chi, is two things, neither of them pertaining to golf. One thing is seeing the San Francisco Giants win a baseball game in which another good friend, Orlando Cepeda, hits three home runs. The other is watching a good western movie.
"Boy, I like to see the good guys get the bad guys and take care of them," says Chi Chi. "That John Wayne, he can sure take care of those bad guys. The best movie ever made was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I really like that movie. If I wasn't a pro golfer, the thing I would most like to be is an FBI man so I could catch those bad guys.
"Bad guys," Chi Chi says, "make the world bad for kids, and I love kids because I was never a kid. I was too poor to be a kid."
The place where Chi Chi was not a kid was San Juan, P.R., where he grew up with two brothers and three sisters and three nephews, all in the same house, and where they sometimes were hungry because Chi Chi's father worked all of his life on a plantation for 40� a day. It was where Chi Chi taught himself to play golf by making clubs out of the limbs of guava trees and by making golf balls out of hammered tin cans. "You could hit that tin can 100 yards if you were good," says Chi Chi.
Chi Chi, of course, became very good, and in the process developed his secret for hitting the ball into the next county, thereby defying all existing theories concerning size and distance. As he outlines the secret in his pamphlet, it is simplicity itself. There are really only two elements to it: a kind of Berlin Wall against the left side and a change of heart in the downswing. Imagine a wall, imagine your left shoulder planted firmly against it, your hip, too, and as much of your leg as you can get into a straight up-and-down left side. That is the Rodriguez stance. On his drives, once he has reached his backswing from that position, Chi Chi hesitates, then starts his downswing with a forceful pull of his left hand only. At about halfway down, he quickly reverses his thinking so that his entire concern now is with the drive he can get with his right shoulder. He whips the shoulder as hard and fast as possible into the shot and follows through. The wrists remain cocked until the change from left to right, then they snap the way Henry Aaron's do whacking a baseball, and Chi Chi gets every ounce of his 120 pounds into the swing at the place it counts most—contact with the ball.
The analogy with baseball, not always a good idea where golf is concerned, seems particularly apt in the case of Juan Rodriguez. Chi Chi got his nickname in San Juan because he idolized a baseball player named Chi Chi Flores, who played for Ponce in the Winter League. It was in San Juan that he gave some thought to trying to be a pitcher, then a boxer, anything that would help him earn money. There, too, a "rich man" gave him his first pair of golf shoes, size 14, about five sizes too large, but he wore them. And it was in San Juan that he joined the Army at 19 so he could help support the household.