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NON-STOP STORYTELLING IS STILL CHI CHI'S FORTE

WHEN CHI CHI Rodriguez was 12 years old, he caddied for a touring pro named Johnnie O'Donnell who was playing in an exhibition match in Chi Chi's native Puerto Rico.

"His ball was in the fairway, about 150 yards from the green, and he asked me what club he should use," said Rodriguez.

"I told him, 'Use your 5-iron.'

"He hit the 5-iron and was short of the green. He turned to me and said, 'You told me the wrong club!'

"I told him, 'No. You hit it fat.'

"He asked me if I played. I said I did. He asked me how well. I told him 'good enough to reach the green with a 5-iron.' "

O'Donnell handed Chi Chi the club and, true to his word, Rodriguez knocked the ball near the flag.

"Never be afraid to say if you're a good player," says Rodriguez.

Chi Chi is still a good player. He won $23,000 Sunday afternoon in a senior tour event in Massachusetts, which is more than he used to win some years on the PGA tour, when prize money was still modest.

He still puts on a good show, too. He entertained a sizable gallery with his shot-making, repartee and advice during the Children's Hospital Charity Pro-Am at Brierwood Monday.

In a prematch clinic, he hit balls while kneeling and then sitting in a chair. He drove a ball down the fairway using a left-hand driver held upside down. He hit a ball teed up on a pile of paper cups.

He also had some advice for Sunday golfers.

"Why take those two practice swings you always take?" he asked. "It's a waste of time. If you take two practice swings before every shot, it's no wonder you're exhausted by the 12th hole."

He advised duffers to keep their bodies moving as they prepare to hit.

"Did you ever watch a good hitter in the batter's box? Does he stay perfectly still?" asked Rodriguez as he mimicked a baseball player holding his bat motionless.

"No. He keeps moving all the time. Remember how Pete Rose was? Remember how Rod Carew was? That's how a golfer should be. Golf is a game of rhythm and you have to get into the rhythm."

Out on the course, Chi Chi kept up the banter.

Waiting on the second tee, one of the amateur golfers sliced his drive deep into the trees near the adjoining fairway. "These guys don't need a caddy," heckled Rodriguez. "They need a couple of boy scouts."

The format was best ball. The best second shots on one hole were about equidistant from the flag -- an uphill lie past the green and the other in the sand trap in front. Chi Chi discussed strategy: "I think I could hole out from the trap. On this uphill lie, you have to hit it over Dolly Parton."

Half the fun for a Rodriguez gallery is the give and take. Discussing the importance of strength to a golfer, Chi Chi remarked, "Hey, I've always been a strong little guy. I was a pro in the sugar cane fields before I was a pro on the golf course."

He allowed a fan to feel his muscles.

"I used to box when I weighed 117 pounds," he said. "I knocked out a guy who was 160. I was too fast for him."

Between swings there were home-spun philosophy and jokes. Non-stop.

"Ronald Reagan gave a speech last week and a guy kept interrupting him, yelling, 'I'm a Democrat! I'm a Democrat!,' " claims Chi Chi.

"Finally Reagan got annoyed and asked him why he was a Democrat. The guy said 'because my father was a Democrat and my grandfather was a Democrat.'

"Reagan asked him, 'If your father was a jackass and your grandfather was a jackass, then what would you be?'

"The guy answered, 'then I'd be a Republican.' "

Even the Republicans liked Chi Chi.

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