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Worcester Telegram & Gazette

Ouimet Fund Honors Chi Chi Rodriguez


July 20, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

It was without a doubt the best piece of meat that Chi Chi Rodriguez had ever tasted, and Chi Chi was 20 years old.

"I had never had a piece of steak before in my life," Rodriguez told the audience last week at the Boston Marriott Copley Place Hotel ballroom, recalling his impoverished youth and the kindness shown to him by Ed Dudley, the man who offered the steak and so much more.

Before completing the story, Rodriguez broke down and cried.

There were more tearful moments, but also plenty of jokes and interesting golf stories from the 67-year-old, who was presented with the seventh annual Francis Ouimet Award for Lifelong Contributions to Golf at the Ouimet Scholarship Fund's 54th annual banquet, which attracted more than 1,000.

Juan Martin Rodriguez, who was nicknamed early in life because of his adoration for baseball player Chi Chi Flores, requested that his award be named in honor of Dudley, a longtime golf professional who was a teacher and mentor to Rodriguez when Dudley was head professional at Dorado Beach Country Club in Puerto Rico.

Dudley, who won several pro tournaments and finished third in the 1937 Masters, was the man who gave Rodriguez the steak, later a down payment on a car, and most importantly, golf lessons and inspiration.

Rodriguez, standing 5-foot-7 and never more than 137 pounds, went on to a memorable career, sword-dancing his way through eight PGA Tour victories, 22 Champions (Senior) Tour wins and a Ryder Cup appearance in 1973. He has always been one of the most popular players in the game.

Rodriguez, whose foundation helps more than 500 troubled and abused youngsters annually, still has a special fondness for Central Mass., especially Pleasant Valley CC in Sutton, site of a longtime PGA Tour stop.

"It was everybody's favorite tournament because Cuz Mingolla treated every pro so well," he said. "The hotel, the meals ... he made sure that we all had what we wanted. It was a tournament that we all looked forward to."

Rodriguez's best finish at PV came in 1970 when he tied for 15th at the Avco Classic.

Rodriguez, whose last win came in 1993 at the Burnet Senior Classic, will again play in a couple of weeks in the FleetBoston Classic at Nashawtuc CC in Concord, a course where he won three straight Digital Classics in the late '80s.

"I love it there," Rodgriguez said. "I went 46 under par for nine rounds when I won three straight."

Reminded of his first PGA Tour victory at the 1963 Denver Open Invitational, Rodriguez smiled and said that he took the $5,600 first-place winnings and bought his mother a home in Puerto Rico.

He then talked about his final hole in that final round at the Denver Country Club. "I was playing with Dave Hill," Rodriguez said, "and he said to me, `Chi, Chi, you have a two-shot lead, take an iron. Don't be stupid. You can make a bogey and win.' I told him that I wasn't backing off. No iron. Well, the hole was about 460 yards, and I took out my driver and drove the ball about 80 yards from the pin."

Rodriguez, who was always a long-ball hitter, then paused and said, "Of course, the older I get, the better I was."

Ouimet Fund president Anne Marie Tobin said the Ouimet Scholarship Fund will award a record $975,000 in scholarships this year. The awards have doubled since 1996.

Since its founding in 1949, the Ouimet Fund has awarded nearly $12.6 million in college tuition assistance to more than 3,900 youths. Ouimet Scholars must complete at least two years of "service to golf" as caddies, helpers in pro shops or course superintendent operations in Massachusetts.

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