By John Rohde
Juan Antonio “Chi Chi” Rodriguez is 82 now. Though still a great storyteller with that recognizable quick wit, evidently some memories from 31 years ago have faded a tad.
Rodriguez was carted out to No. 6 tee box at Quail Creek Golf and Country Club on Thursday afternoon for a sneak preview of a plaque that bears his name and marks the beginning of his PGA Tour record-setting run of eight straight birdies during the 1987 Silver Pages Classic.
Did the course look familiar on the drive to the monument? “To tell you the truth … well, the truth is not always the truth,” Rodriguez said, cracking a huge smile and drawing laughter. “I vaguely remember, yeah.”
The truth is this: At that point in time, it didn’t matter what course Rodriguez was playing because he was the man to beat.
Rodriguez assembled one of the most dominant seasons in senior tour (50-and-older) history with seven victories in a span of 18 events. He also had four second-place finishes, three third-place finishes and 20 Top-10 finishes in 27 starts while finishes as the tour’s money leader that season.
Then age 51, Rodriguez was playing arguably the best golf of his Hall of Fame career. “I could have won on the regular tour then, too,” Rodriguez confessed.
Rodriguez led the Silver Pages wire-to-wire and finished with a 54-hole total of 200. It was the third of four straight events he won in a span of five weeks.
The historic stretch of holes allowed the swashbuckling Rodriguez to brandish his putter like a saber after sinking each birdie putt, a playful ritual that helped make him a crowd favorite throughout his career.
All of Rodriguez’ golfing tools worked in unison during the eight-hole streak. Known as a good driver, a great iron player and a streaky putter, he stuck the ball close on several approach shots and buried putts that measured 7, 7, 9, 3, 12, 15 and 35 feet, then a 1-footer before leaving a 20-foot birdie putt about four feet short on the par-5 14th hole.
Rodriguez said he wasn’t consciously keeping track of how many consecutive birdies he had made as the streak unfolded. “That was like a great dream, you know,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez grew up extremely poor, overcame rickets at age 4 and started caddying at age 8. His 22 career victories on the senior tour is tied for seventh all-time and includes two major titles. He also won eight PGA Tour events, seven other tour events worldwide and in 1992 became the first Puerto Rican to be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
The plaque dedication is part of festivities to re-open Quail Creek and mark the completion of its nearly $2-million renovation designed by award-winning architect Bill Bergin.
Quail Creek switched to using roman numerals rather than color-coded tee boxes and the “III” tee is named after Rodriguez, along with tee boxes recognizing Arnold Palmer (I), Gary Player (II), Tony Lema (IV), Miller Barber (V) and Doug Sanders (VI), who all won tour events staged at Quail Creek.
Weather permitting, a shot-gun tournament start for 88 players will commence at 9 a.m. Friday, followed by the plaque dedication and a 6 p.m. banquet honoring Rodriguez.
“This is terrific because there’s a lot of thought behind this,” Rodriguez said of being honored by the club. “This is a great, great monument for me. I really appreciate it.”
Rodriguez said Oklahoma already had “a great place in my heart” because he was stationed at Fort Sill in Lawton at age 19.
“They gave me the last step to becoming a man. I owe a lot to the Army,” Rodriguez said. “Oklahoma was good to me and I’ll never forget it.”