Rodríguez was born into a poor family in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. He was one of six siblings. His father used to earn only $18 a week as a laborer and cattle handler. When Rodríguez was only seven years old, he helped the family by earning money as a water carrier on a sugar plantation. One day, Juan wandered off onto a golf course. When he saw that the caddies were earning more money, he decided to become a caddy himself.
Rodríguez would take a branch from a guava tree and turn it into a golf club. Using a metal can as a ‘golf ball’, he would practise what he had seen the ‘real’ golfers do, teaching himself how to play golf. By the time he was nine years old, he was proficient at golf and in 1947, at the age of 12, he shot a 67.
In 1954, when Rodríguez was 19, he joined the United States Army. During his breaks, he would visit whichever golf course was nearby, where he continued to work on his game.
Rodríguez, with characteristic charisma, would often make jokes about his past hardships on the golf course, such as, ‘How long does John Daly drive a golf ball? When I was a kid, I didn’t go that far on vacation.’ And, ‘Playing golf is not hot work. Cutting sugar cane for a dollar a day â€” that’s hot work. Hotter than my first wrist watch.’
Rodríguez turned professional in 1960. In 1963, at age 28, Rodríguez won the Denver Open, which he considers his favourite win. He won eight titles on the PGA Tour between 1963 and 1979.
At first Rodríguez used to put his hat over the hole whenever he made a birdie or eagle. After he heard that other golfers were complaining about his little act, he decided to try something new. Juan developed his signature ‘toreador dance’, where he would make believe that the ball was a ‘bull’ and that his putter was a ‘sword’, and he would terminate the ‘bull’. Rodríguez represented Puerto Rico in 12 World Cups.
In 1986, Rodríguez won the Hispanic Recognition Award. In 1988, he was named Replica’s Hispanic Man of the Year. In 1989, Rodríguez was presented with the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. He received the 1989 Old Tom Morris Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, the GCSAA’s highest honor. In 1992, Juan ‘Chi-Chi’ Rodríguez was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.