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National Post

Chi Chi Speaks Before Swinging Into Sunset: Puerto Rican Golf Legend Expects This To Be His Last Year

By Lew Price
The Press-Enterprise

July 6, 2004
Copyright ©2004 National Post. All rights reserved.

Senior golf is past tense, right? It's getting old, isn't it, losing its sizzle?

Arnold Palmer huffs and puffs to break 80, Jack Nicklaus talks more and more about playing less and less, Lee Trevino finds his way to the first tee about once a month.

Now Chi Chi Rodriguez tells us this is it for him, his final tour of the Champions Tour.

The senior circuit was supposed to be a showcase for the golden oldies, wasn't it, a final farewell fuelled by wisecracks and cheap cigars? So why are its remaining star attractions, its heart and soul, literally being driven out?

That's what Rodriguez would like to know.

Predicated on nostalgia, the Champions Tour continues to move progressively in another direction, the latest blow being a ban on motorized carts that kicks in next year.

The ban will take its toll on the few leftovers from the tour's golden days, forcing out some like Rodriguez, who at 68 simply can't propel himself around a course day after day any more.

Rodriguez, a winner 22 times as a senior, said the ban ensures this will be his last year as a player.

So, while there is still time, we pause to hear one more time from Chi Chi.

This is what we will miss:

"Most people will miss a putt for nothing," he said. "A little money and the weak are certain to miss.

"You could put horse manure on an ice-cream cone with whip cream and a cherry on top and people will buy it if a top-30 touring pro is selling it."

The witticisms arrive in rapid-fire style, practised and well-worn, but still a kick.

Q. What keeps you playing at 68?

CHI CHI: When you retire, your wife gets twice as much husband and half as much money. I have to keep playing. But I do get a lot of encouragement, and that means a lot.

Q. Did you really begin playing by hitting tin cans with the limb of a guava tree in your native Puerto Rico?

CHI CHI: Yes I did. I would make a hole at second base and another one at home plate, and I could get it in in three strokes. I just always loved the game. I never played for what I could make. I played to win. If you're playing just to make a living, you should go do something else. You've got to enjoy playing.

Q. You've been outspoken against the tour's new policy that will prohibit the use of carts after this year. Will this really drive you from the game?

CHI CHI: I want to keep playing, but I won't play at all after this year. They are going to take away the carts, so that will do it. I think somebody might get a good lawyer and maybe something will be done, but I won't do it.

It just seems to me that once you start something, you don't go back on it. Those of us that have been out here should get to keep doing what we've been doing.

Q. It was you, Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus that drove the Champions Tour into prominence. What happens to the tour now that you guys are nearing the end of your careers?

CHI CHI: The biggest fear I have is the guys coming up have so much money, they're not going to want to play as much. I hope that's not the case. But it's happening in every sport. It's all so serious now. What it shows you is there is no one left who was brought up in a caddy pen.

Q. You have been referred to as, pound for pound, one of the longest hitters to play the game. How did you generate that distance with a body that never weighed more than 130 pounds?

CHI CHI: First, my reflexes are very fast. After a round in Hawaii one time, John Brodie and I were having a few beers and I reached up and caught a fly out of the air -- not one, but two. Brodie said, "I'll bet you $100 you didn't catch that fly." I said, "I'll bet you $200 I caught two," and I threw them down on the table.

Also, I used to work in a stable. I had a wheelbarrow here and a pile of cow manure over here. I had to shovel it in. To do that, you have to pronate (rotate your wrist) and that's good for golf.

Q. Given the fact that you achieved great distance naturally, are you among those who would like to see the brakes applied to technology?

CHI CHI: No. Technology makes the game better. I think it's time for Arnold and Jack to say the guys now are better. They are stronger, taller, they work out more. When Bobby Jones said Nicklaus played a game he was not familiar with, he didn't say he should be playing with hickory shafts. The amateurs still shoot the same anyway. If they want to do something to the pros, maybe they should make them use 10 clubs instead of 14.

Q. Who is the best player you've ever seen?

CHI CHI: Until Tiger Woods came along, I thought Jack Nicklaus was the greatest player ever. Sam Snead was the best ball striker I ever saw. Ben Hogan was second with Byron Nelson pretty close to both of them. But Tiger Woods, he is the complete package. He has the intelligence of Nicklaus, the guts of Arnold Palmer, the beauty of Sam's swing, the shot-making ability of Hogan and the patience and temperament of Gandhi.

Q. Do you have any practical advice for the everyday player to take to the course?

CHI CHI: When you're looking for someone to play, look for the guy with the new grip on his ball retriever and head covers on his irons.

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