ARMCHAIR GOLF is in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, for the Puerto Rico Open.
IF YOU CAREFULLY SCANNED PGA Tour scores from the early 1960s, you could spot one of the very few Hispanic names: Juan Rodriguez. (Another would be Roberto de Vicenzo, the great Argentine player.) I’m not sure when Juan became popularly known as “Chi Chi,” but that young man from humble beginnings in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, would become an accomplished and colorful player on the PGA Tour and roving golf ambassador for his small island nation.
Chi Chi won eight times on the PGA Tour and notched 22 victories on the Champions Tour. His first title came at the 1963 Denver Open when he was 28 years old. One of my most vivid memories of Rodriguez was watching him duel Jack Nicklaus in an 18-hole playoff at the 1991 U.S. Senior Open at Oakland Hills. Jack won with a 65; Chi Chi shot a very respectable 69. Rodriguez was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1992.
I doubt if there’s a day that goes by that he doesn’t consider himself extremely fortunate. Golf provided a path for Rodriguez that he could have never imagined as a boy who fashioned a makeshift golf club from the branch of a guava tree.
“It means everything to me,” Chi Chi told PGATour.com a year ago. “Through golf I made everything I have in life.”
Rodriguez has long been known for his flair, including his trademark Panama hat, rainbow attire and sword antics with his putter when his golf ball dropped into the cup. Many know of Chi Chi as an aging champion, but here’s a peek at the Puerto Rican golfer in his early days on tour:
Early days: SI photo of Juan “Chi Chi” Rodriguez
Puerto Rico’s golf ambassador is especially proud the PGA Tour has come to his homeland. “It’s a dream come true,” he said. “This will be a big step for Puerto Rico.”
Latin American Players in Puerto Rico Open
Following are some of the Latin American players scheduled to play this week at Trump International Golf Course.
Rafael Campos, a San Juan native who plays on the Virginia Commonwealth golf team, will be competing in his third Puerto Rico Open.
Max Alverio, an Aibonito native, is a University of Alabama graduate playing in his second Puerto Rico Open.
Erick Morales, a Dorado native, caddied in the two previous Puerto Rico Opens. He qualified to play this year by winning the Chapter Open Qualifier in a playoff.
Julio Animal Santos Polanco, making his first appearance in Puerto Rico, is considered to be the first Dominican-born player to compete on the PGA Tour.
Daniel Barbetti of Argentina, the Venezuela Open champion, will make his first PGA Tour start this week.
Cesar Costilla, also of Argentina and winner of the Visa Open de Argentina, will play in his inaugural PGA Tour event.
Argentine and two-time PGA Tour winner Jose Coceres hopes for a good showing at Trump International after a series of injuries.
–The Armchair Golfer
(Brought to you by YourGolfTravel.com and ARMCHAIR GOLF STORE.)