Golfing with Chi Chi

I am not a golfer by any means. To say my drives are short would not be an exaggeration.
One time I attended a celebrity golf tournament and my golf game was so bad it became the topic for the comedian who entertained us that evening at dinner. How he made it into a 20-minute monologue I will never know. I have stood on the links with stars from Michael Jordan to Charlie Daniels.
No matter how poorly I play, giving time to help various causes such as Ronald McDonald House and other great programs has given me the opportunity to meet and play with some of the elite of the golf world.
One of my first celebrity golf tournaments was the Rose Classic in Shreveport, La.
I was scared to death. I went out and practiced and practiced so I could at least not look ridiculous when the local NBC affiliate cameras rolled to carry my tee off.
I stepped to the tee, addressed the ball: “Hello, ball,” and delivered the swing in perfect form to carry the ball around 40 feet down the fairway.
While it was not a great beginning, at least I did not hit any of the innocent bystanders watching the event.
Luckily, I joined a gracious foursome including the owners of a major mid-western radio syndicate. They took my deficiencies in account and we had a terrific day together.
The highlight of the event was spending time with the charismatic Chi Chi Rodriguez.
It turned out that Chi Chi was a huge fan of “In the Heat of the Night” and especially Alan Autry’s “Bubba” character.
Chi Chi has won eight times on the PGA tour and had logged 22 Senior tour victories.
As a child he carried water through the hot, dusty sugarcane fields of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. There he toiled with his father who was tending the cane.
I was asked to join with Chi Chi when we went out to do his special golf clinic for inner city children in the community. Of course, all I had to do was help talk with the youths and give them some encouragement. I was a fine example of how not to be a golfer when put up against Chi Chi and his flamboyant approach.
He has truly given his heart and talents to make a positive impact through his Chi Chi Rodriguez Youth Foundation based in Clearwater, Fla. Its mission is simple: to give kids a chance. Visit
“I figure kids are the future,” Chi Chi said. “If I made it, anybody can do it. I think I can be a good role model for them because they can look at me and say, ‘Look, he’s a small guy, very poor, and he worked hard and made it.’ If I can help one kid become successful, that’s all I ask for.”
Chi Chi got up close and personal with the children of Shreveport, encouraging their interest in golf. He imparted to them his strong beliefs about how things should be in society. I remember him asking one of the children to remove an earring, telling him, “real men do not wear earrings.”
Using his club as a sword he swash buckled the children with his unique ability to craft golf balls to his will and mesmerized the youths with his performance. Like a magician, he was able to amaze and delight with his sleight of hand.
Although it has been nearly 29 years since I met him, each time I look at my golf clubs, I think: “I got to hit the ball around with a World Golf Hall of Famer who won eight PGA Tours. Wow, isn’t life amazing?”
For those of you hitting the links this week, may each drive go the distance, may each putt be steady and sure, but most of all may you all have fun. Above everything else, I think that is what Chi Chi brought to the game of golf. He took it and made playing it more than fundamentals, more than technique; he made it fun.

Tenacity is within the genes

My recent experience of struggling each day to work my way back from a hip injury is giving me such an amazing respect for the profession of physical therapy and the process the put the patient through to awaken the various muscles back into performing their previous automatic duties. The experience made me reflect on a story of the tenacity of my grandfather and inspires me each day to press on.

The leaf swayed hanging on to the lonely limb tightly.  As if, to say to the world “I am not done and you are not going to make me fall down no matter what you throw at me.” All of its fellow leaves had given up the ghost blowing in whatever direction the wind desired them to go. Some managed to find a resting place at the foot of the majestic oak tree to spend the winter becoming the woodland blanket upon which the rain would fall before soaking into the ground.
My Grandad sat quietly on the porch staring at the leave bobbing in the wind.
He had come back from a tremendous stroke that took the wind from his earthly sails. The man who seemed would not bend to nothing could now barely lift himself from the chair in which he sat.
On this fall day though spying that lone leaf seemed to fortify him more than anything that anyone had to bolster his spirits. He stared endlessly watching its fight and as the fight struggled on from one day to two, to a week, his personal strength seemed to grow.
He managed each day no matter how the wind blew or what elements forced themselves past the mountain homestead, he walked himself out to the porch to spend some time sitting, later leaning against the porch post, and then standing as upright as the years would allow. He was always looking off towards the oak tree and its one hold out to the whims of the world saying nothing that revealed the focus of his internal thoughts.
As the winter came on strong, he would rise up and with his cane in hand, he eventually walked off the porch and towards that mighty oak tree going as far as he felt comfortable then returning to the porch. With each trip he got closer to his goal and he soon reached the tree looking straight up towards the hanging leaf.
There were a few times he would take one hand lean against the trunk of the tree and with the other lift his cane as far as he could trying to hit the leaf that centered his focus. He was just shy of reaching it and he would eventually tire and return to the warmth of the fireplace inside.
The light covering of snow did not even dissuade him to making his trek to the oak and returning home and with each passing day he grew stronger.
By the first signs of spring, he no longer limited his walking to just the tree and he was taken on even more of the activities that made his day sing around the farm.
It was on a spring day that the tree had refilled all its limbs and the greenery made it full and majestic. Grandad could no longer see the lone leaf from the porch so he decided to make another trek to see what had become of his now old companion who he fought alongside against the world’s elements.
As he reached the tree, he looked upon the ground to find it to no avail so he turned his gaze upward and amongst the lush green leaves there it was – one brown leaf still holding on to its place amidst the green youngsters around it.
Grandad’s face seemed to change as his face fought back the effects of the stroke moved to show a smile.
He raised his cane, almost in a sense of a salute to the lone leaf, then turned and walked down the trail towards the valley store. Emboldened by the lone leaf, he was figuring to hold on to his place in the world and stand as the man he was inside, no matter what nature threw against him.
We need more people in this world who work to overcome what they face finding the inner strength that God placed within each of His creations.