Chi Chi's Laughs Come Easily but Skins Are Scarce

Times Staff Writer

Chi Chi Rodriguez must have a screw loose. Consider his attitude toward golf. The game consists of grown men who wear lime green polyester pants with tiny walruses on them and shoes with sharp nails protruding from the soles. These same men smack a tiny white ball around in a big field and then walk after it. Rodriguez thinks there's something funny about that.

But the 51-year-old from San Juan, Puerto Rico, has made a very nice living at golf and does have his serious moments.

"When he's standing over the ball and waggling that club, he's as mean and serious as anyone," said Rodriguez's caddy, John Lynch of Cleveland.

But when Rodriguez is called to the big fairway in the sky, he will not be remembered as a mean and serious type. You get the idea that Rodriguez would play golf with one of those fake arrows stuck through his head--if he thought the arrow wouldn't interfere with his backswing.

Consider a few of his observations over the years:

Upon reaching the $1 million mark in earnings several years ago he remarked: "This would mean a lot more to me if I hadn't already reached the $2 million spending mark."

When Jack Nicklaus began cutting back drastically on the number of tournaments he played in but continued to win some big ones, Rodriguez said: "Jack Nicklaus has become a legend in his spare time."

And when asked if he had encountered language problems playing on the PGA Tour, he recalled: "Just once. I was in a trap and asked my caddy for the sand wedge. He came back 20 minutes later with a ham on rye."

Rodriguez added to his popularity among golf fans--without adding to his bank account--Tuesday in the $36,000 Senior Skins Game at the Wood Ranch Golf Club in Simi Valley. The event, part of a weeklong program that culminates with the 54-hole GTE Seniors Classic starting Friday, pitted Rodriguez against Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Bruce Crampton and Dale Douglass. Palmer won $16,000 and Crampton won $22,000.

The others won nothing, but the crowd of about 8,000 came away a bit richer from their day with Rodriguez.

The show began early, on the practice tee, when the straw-hatted Rodriguez entertained about 100 followers with a 20-minute stand-up routine. A man dressed in yellow pants, yellow shirt and yellow sweater with argyle socks caught Rodriguez's attention immediately.

"Geez," he said to the man. "I didn't know Ray Charles designed clothes."

Other Rodriguez jokes:

"A guy goes to the doctor, the doctor examines him and tells him he's OK and sends him home. As he walks out of the office he drops dead. The nurse says, 'Doc, what are we going to do?' The doctor says, 'Turn him around. Make it look like he was coming in.' "

"Doctor tells a patient, 'I have good news and bad news. The bad news is in six months you'll be dead.' The guys says 'What's the good news?' The doctor says, 'See that receptionist out there, the blonde with the long legs? I've got a date with her tonight.' "

After converting the group into his friends, Rodriguez then asked a favor.

"When these other guys are putting, would you guys shuffle your feet and talk a little bit?" he asked them.

He also offered tips to the spectators.

"Golf is so much in the mind," he said. "When I play, I picture what's going to happen in my mind. I visualize what will happen. For instance, today I picture these other guys hitting everything into the lake."

On the par-3 13th hole, Rodriguez drilled his tee shot within 15 feet of the pin. There was no reaction from the gallery, but Rodriguez said he understood the lack of hand-clapping. "Most of the people who follow me around are wearing handcuffs," he said.

On the 16th hole, after hitting his drive into a wild patch of 8-inch-tall fescue grass, large rocks and towering cat-o'-nine-tails, Rodriguez told the surrounding gallery: "This is nothing. Where I grew up I played on courses where this would have been the green ."

And as he waited for the notoriously slow-playing Crampton to hit, Rodriguez remarked: "My clothes will be out of style before Crampton hits the damn ball."

Rodriguez knows, however, that laughter will never go out of style.

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