Pure and simple

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:54 AM ET

Substance over style.

Chi Chi Rodriguez has made a career of it since he won his first PGA Tour event at the Denver Open Invitational in 1963.

And, while Rodriguez plays golf for pleasure more often than for pay these days as his 71st birthday approaches, nothing has changed.

In an era where bigger is better and course operators scramble to adjust to wave-after-wave of young studs who can hit the dimpled sphere 300 yards all day long, Rodriguez, who is five-foot-seven and weighs 150 pounds with his trademark hat and spikes on, remains one of the purest ball-strikers and shot-makers in the game.

How, exactly, Rodriguez does it is anybody's guess. With a swing that's unorthodox, to say the least, the wispy links legend from Puerto Rico no doubt makes some teaching pros shudder and feel the need to shield the eyes of impressionable, young junior players.

TIN CANS AND STICKS

It's a self-taught address - Rodriguez honed his skills as a child in Rio Piedras by hitting tin cans with a stick - that makes the ball do what he wants it to do, even if casual observers can't quite figure out how.

Those who'd like to find out can see first- hand Sunday at the Dorchester Golf Course, south of Pigeon Lake, when Rodriguez opens his bag of tricks and puts on a clinic that's free to the public.

Chi Chi promises it'll be fun.

"They're going to have a lot of laughs," smiles Rodriguez, who played his first-ever round in Edmonton yesterday, touring the spectacular Blackhawk Golf Club on the south side of town.

"I want them to laugh and have a good time. They're going to learn. Part of the clinic is instructional."

With eight career PGA Tour event wins, 22 more on the Champions circuit as a senior and more than $6 million in career earnings, Rodriguez's place in the folklore of the game was long ago assured.

Then, there's Rodriguez's on-course antics - the putter-as-a-sword routine to birdie celebrate putts. The staple of highlight reels for years, was the affable and always classy Rodriguez.

With all his panache, Rodriguez's uncanny ability to put the club head squarely on the ball - despite a tendency to send cookie-cutter swing fanatics into convulsions - was often overshadowed.

"You have to hit the ball solid," shrugs Rodriguez, who can still hit it 250 yards off the tee and shape shots like few can. "What is a perfect swing? I think a good swing is repetition of something, of the same thing."

Rodriguez has played in just 20 official PGA seniors events in the last three years, including three this season. With 464 total tour events already on his resume, he's enjoying the twilight of his competitive career.

Right now, he's acting as the touring pro for The Hamptons Country Club in Calgary, a relationship that began with an appearance at the course in Cowtown.

You're much more likely to see Rodriguez playing for fun, like yesterday, or wowing fans in one of the 25-30 clinics he puts on each year than teeing it up competitively.

Rodriguez loves to teach.

There was a time when he did more than 100 clinics a year. His message Sunday, when he'll appear at Dorchester, will be the same as it's always been.

'YOU SHOULD HAVE FUN'

"I enjoy it. I love it," said Rodriguez, who'll entertain fans for 45 minutes or so before playing a round at Gord Dorchester's rural track. "I have fun. You should have fun."

As for Rodriguez's mastery with the tools of the game that most mere mortals handle with relative ham-handedness, he promises to put on a show.

One of Rodriguez's favourite demonstrations is to tee-up two balls side by side. Then, using a five-iron or seven-iron, he hits one ball with a draw and another with a cut and has them intersect in mid-air.

Legend, confirmed by Rodriguez yesterday, has it he occasionally makes the balls collide in mid-air.

"Oh yes," chuckled Rodriguez before teeing it up at Blackhawk yesterday.

"It happens."

How'd he do that?

Rodriguez is scheduled to appear at 2 p.m.

For more information, phone the Dorchester Golf Club at 586-2350.


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