Why Chi Chi Rodriguez Is One of Golf's Most Famous Players

Biography and Career Profile of the Entertainer and Hall of Famer

Chi Chi Rodriguez celebrates his putt during the U.S Senior Open at the Des Moines Country Club in Des Moines, Iowa on July 9, 1999
Chi Chi Rodriguez performing his signature 'sword dance' celebration after sinking a putt during the 1999 U.S Senior Open. Harry How/Getty Images

Chi Chi Rodriguez is one of the most popular golfers on the planet, his popularity dating to his first days on the PGA Tour in the early 1960s when he debuted his "sword dance" celebration for birdie putts. Rodriguez later, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, became one of the best players on the Champions Tour. He was famous as an entertainer and shotmaker — but he also had his share of wins, especially on the senior tour.

Fast Facts: Chi Chi Rodriguez

  • Occupation: Professional golfer
  • Full Name: Juan Antonio Rodríguez
  • Born: October 23, 1935 in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
  • Key Accomplishments: Eight victories on the PGA Tour, two wins in senior major championships
  • Published Works: Chi Chi's Secrets of Power Golf (1967); 101 Supershots: Every Golfer's Guide to Lower Scores (1990); Chi Chi's Golf Games You Gotta Play (2002)
  • Famous Quote: "If you buy a book on golf instruction buy the thinnest book you can find. The thinner the book, chances are the easier and more elementary the instruction. It can do one of two things: help you more or hurt you less."
  • Fun Fact: A likeness of Rodriguez served as the cover art on the first album released by rock and new wave band Devo (Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! released in 1978).

Number of Wins by Chi Chi Rodriguez

Rodriguez was not a prolific winner on the PGA Tour, totaling eight career victories. But he was one of the biggest winners in the first 10-15 years of the senior tour, with 22 career Champions Tour victories. (All the tournaments won by Rodriguez are listed below.)

Rodriguez did not win any major championships — The Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship — on the "regular" tour. But he did win two senior majors. Those were the 1986 Senior Players Championship and the 1987 Senior PGA Championship.

Awards and Honors for Chi Chi Rodriguez

  • Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
  • Member, U.S. Ryder Cup team, 1973
  • Recipient, USGA Bob Jones Award, 1989
  • Member, World Humanitarian Sports Hall of Fame

Chi Chi Rodriguez Biography

One of the smallest golfers of his era at just 5-foot-7 and never more than 130 pounds, Chi Chi Rodriguez became one of the game's biggest stars through his showmanship and shotmaking skills.

He was born on Oct. 23, 1935, in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. He grew up poor, and carved his first golf club from a tree branch, striking "balls" made of rolled-up tin cans, or just plain ol' rocks.

His given name is Juan, but he acquired the nickname "Chi Chi" early on, after a Puerto Rican baseball player named Chi Chi Flores.

Chi Chi was an excellent boxer and baseball player as a youth, but turned to golf as his game of choice. He began caddying at age eight and sneaking onto the golf course after-hours to practice. Rodriguez has said he imagined a life in golf from his earliest times playing: "Every golf shot I hit I thought about how much I wanted to eat."

By age 16, Rodriguez was setting course records, and at 17 he finished second in the Puerto Rico Open. Following a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, Rodriguez began working at Dorado Beach Resort and came under the tutelage of former PGA Tour pro Pete Cooper. Cooper mentored Chi Chi's game, and then, with financial backing from resort investor Laurence Rockefeller (yes, of the famously rich Rockefellers), Rodriguez began playing the PGA Tour in 1960.

And he quickly became a fan favorite with his great ballstriking and imaginative shot-shaping, but largely because of his showmanship. Rodriguez debuted his famous "sword dance" or "toreador dance," waving his putter like a sword after making a birdie. He also would drop his straw hat over the hole — to "keep the ball from escaping," he said. Fans loved it, but some tour pros didn't. Years later Hale Irwin talked about how Rodriguez "spiked up a lot of greens" with the "sword dance," and Chi Chi eventually stopped placing his hat over the hole. The sword dance remained throughout his career, however.

Rodriguez's first PGA Tour win happened at the 1963 Denver Open. The next year was probably his best: He won twice, making 1964 his only multiple win season, and finished ninth on the money list, his only Top 10 finish in money. He also had his biggest PGA Tour victory: a one-stroke win over Arnold Palmer at the historic Western Open.

Rodriguez won eight times total on the PGA Tour, his final victory coming at the 1979 Tallahassee Open.

But Chi Chi's fame really exploded on the Champions Tour. His "rookie" year as a senior golfer was 1986, and all he did was finish in the Top 10 in 23 of 25 Champions Tour starts, winning three times. That included his first senior major, the 1986 Senior Players Championship.

And 1987 was even better: Rodriguez won seven times, including the Senior PGA Championship, had 14 Top 3 finishes, and led the money list.

Rodriguez won 22 times total on the Champions Tour, but perhaps should have won even more: His playoff record was only 1-7. One of those seven playoff losses was to Jack Nicklaus in an 18-hole playoff at the 1991 U.S. Senior Open.

His last win on the Champions Tour was in 1993.

Rodriguez was a very long driver for his size, an accurate irons player and a creative shotmaker, but his big weakness was putting.

Rodriguez is also noted for his dedication to children's charities, and the Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation is devoted to helping disadvantaged kids. Rodriguez was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1992.

Quote, Unquote

Rodriguez is one of the most quotable players in golf history, and there's an entire page of Chi Chi Rodriguez quotes if you want more. Here is just a sampling of some of Chi Chi's best quips:

  • "Sure, I'm making a lot of money now, but years ago the IRS would send me get-well cards."
  • "I've heard people say putting is 50 percent technique and 50 percent mental. I really believe it is 50 percent technique and 90 percent positive thinking. See, but that adds up to 140 percent, which is why nobody is 100 percent sure how to putt."
  • "I never exaggerate. I just remember big."
  • "A golf ball is like a clock. Always hit it at 6 o'clock and make it go toward 12 o'clock. But make sure you're in the same time zone."
  • "Golf is a thinking man's game. You can have all the shots in the bag, but if you don't know what to do with them, you've got troubles."

Chi Chi Rodriguez Trivia

  • Rodriguez won four straight times on the Champions Tour in 1987, that tour's record for most consecutive wins.
  • That same year, in one tournament, he made eight consecutive birdies, also a Champions Tour record (since tied).
  • Rodriguez once told recreational golfers interested in buying an instructional book that they should buy the shortest such book available, because it would mess them up the least. Rodriguez's Secrets of Power Golf, published in 1967, was only 78 pages long.

Tour Wins By Chi Chi Rodriguez

PGA Tour (8)

  • 1963 Denver Open Invitational
  • 1964 Lucky International Open
  • 1964 Western Open
  • 1967 Texas Open Invitational
  • 1968 Sahara Invitational
  • 1972 Byron Nelson Golf Classic
  • 1973 Greater Greensboro Open
  • 1969 Tallahassee Open

Champions Tour (22)

  • 1986 Senior Players Championship
  • 1986 Digital Seniors Classic
  • 1986 United Virginia Bank Seniors
  • 1987 Senior PGA Championship
  • 1987 Vantage at The Dominion
  • 1987 United Hospitals Senior Golf Championship
  • 1987 Silver Pages Classic
  • 1987 Senior Players Reunion Pro-Am
  • 1987 Digital Seniors Classic
  • 1987 GTE Northwest Classic
  • 1988 Doug Sanders Kingwood Celebrity Classic
  • 1988 Digital Seniors Classic
  • 1989 Crestar Classic
  • 1990 Las Vegas Senior Classic
  • 1990 Ameritech Senior Open
  • 1990 Sunwest Bank Charley Pride Senior Golf Classic
  • 1991 GTE West Classic
  • 1991 Vintage ARCO Invitational
  • 1991 Las Vegas Senior Classic
  • 1991 Murata Reunion Pro-Am
  • 1992 Ko Olina Senior Invitational
  • 1993 Burnet Senior Classic