"People laugh at Chi Chi for joining the Army to make money, but it was more than I could make caddying at Dorado Beach," he said. "I made $72 a month in the Army, and I always sent $50 home to my family from Fort Sill. I had one luxury, the $6 a month I paid to be a member of the Fort Sill Country Club so I could try to become a golfer. Listen, I know what it was like to be poor, and the money I made in the Army seemed like all the money in the world to me then."
When Chi Chi got out of the Army he returned to San Juan and began learning more about golf from Pete Cooper and the late Ed Dudley. "They got me out of the interlocking grip and helped me refine my game." Chi Chi became a tourist attraction for the wealthy Americans who visited Dorado Beach—the little Puerto Rican who could drive so far. Games were arranged with the rich men so Chi Chi could win, which was usually no trouble for him, anyhow. Accustomed to these arrangements, Chi Chi got a harsh reminder one day that life was still not completely a bowl of suckers. He was playing in a game with three Americans, one of them a deceptively good low-handicap player from Pittsburgh, a smiling, bespectacled man in his 50s named Patrick J. McDonough. McDonough took his golf seriously, as evidenced by his memberships in the Field Club in Pittsburgh, New Jersey's famous Pine Valley and the Thunder-bird in Palm Springs. Chi Chi and McDonough were playing a $5 Nassau with the usual presses, and McDonough kept making pars and birdies. Finally, on the 17th, just when Chi Chi thought he would square the match with a short birdie putt, McDonough holed out with a chip shot and won the money.
"This is a very bad game," said the Puerto Rican, obviously crushed. "Chi Chi is not supposed to lose to an old, baldheaded man."
The story is a favorite around Dorado Beach, and Chi Chi and McDonough consider themselves good friends today. Chi Chi, in fact, has a lot of friends at Dorado Beach, and the club is one reason he is on the tour.
"They give me $12,000 a year for expenses," says Chi Chi, "and I pay them the first $6,000 I make in prize money."
Most of the rest of Chi Chi's money goes into the bank. He has built a new house in San Juan for the family he supports—"nice bedrooms, a good yard where I can grow pretty things and a nice kitchen where my sisters can cook beans and rice"—and he has bought a Cadillac. "Not to show off," he says. "Only because I need a good car to drive to as many tournaments as I can because I hate to fly, and because I can sell it for what I paid."
Airplanes, Chi Chi firmly believes, are going to kill him eventually. They have almost driven him from the tour. "I know that airplanes got no business in the air and that all of them are going to fall down. I've hit air pockets and dropped 6,000 feet, and I've flown on only one engine when the others went out. Boy, I hate flying. I wish I could drive to every tournament so the airplanes wouldn't kill me sooner or later. But the good thing is that I got lots of insurance for my family, and they won't ever have to go hungry when the airplanes kill me."
But if there is anything that bothers Chi Chi more than airplanes, it is the disapproval of his fellow pros.
"It makes me sad," said Chi Chi the other day, sadly. "It makes me want to hide in my room and watch television and do nothing but sleep and go home. It makes me miss beans and rice, which is the best thing to eat in the whole world the way my sister fixes them. She puts about 25 different things in the beans, and that's what makes them good. I've never tried to bother anybody. All I want to do is tell the little girls how pretty they are and tell the little boys to play golf and be happy. I want the fans and the pros to like me. I enjoy playing with all of the boys, even some players that a lot of them have said they don't like to be paired with. Like Cary Middlecoff, who plays slow. He bothers some players. But he doesn't bother me. I think a man ought to play fast, but I'd rather be paired with Middlecoff than anybody because he tries so hard on every shot. I admire that. He makes me try harder. And the way you make a success on the tour is by not giving up."
Says Chi Chi, "If I can't stop bothering everybody, by being the way I am, then I'm just going to quit and go home and teach all the kids in Puerto Rico how not to be poor. That would be a good life, too."