The Road Less Travelled:  José de Jesús Rodríguez's Unlikely Journey to the PGA Tour


photo courtesy the PGA Tour

When the Sony Open tees off on Thursday, January 10, most of the focus will be on established stars like Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson or Patton Kizzire. Few will immediately know the name José de Jesús Rodríguez, known to his friends and family as Camarón, or “Shrimp”, when he tees off at 4:30. Rodriguez has yet to win a PGA Tour event, but if his past is any marker then it is premature to count him out yet.  An unconventional rookie at 37, Rodriguez came to the pinnacle of golf through a large amount of determination and grit and his story should inspire anyone to reach for their dreams. 


Early Life

Rodriguez was born January 22, 1981 and grew up in Irapuato, a medium-sized city in central Mexico. He lived in a one-room adobe house as one of 8 kids in a family that struggled to make ends meet. Often they went to sleep hungry, despite his dad’s work in construction. Rodriguez began full-time work at 12 in order to help his family. He found work at the Club de Golf Santa Margarita as a caddy, and was thus introduced to the game of golf. Soon Rodriguez and his older brother were fashioning their own clubs out of rebar and whatever other supplies could be salvaged. However, despite his new job, Rodriguez’s family still struggled to make ends meet. This is why at the age of 15, Rodriguez made a bold decision: he decided he would cross into America to earn enough money to help his family live comfortably. A brash thought for a young teenager, but one that he nevertheless committed to. 

 

In America

First Rodriguez had to navigate over 500 miles of Mexico before he even reached the American border through hitchhiking, buses, and sleeping rough in the open. Rodriguez, who couldn’t swim, eventually made his way across the Rio Grande to Laredo where he affably begged his way onto a crew headed north for Fayetteville, Arkansas for a delivery. Soon finding himself alone in Fayetteville, Rodriguez was left wondering what to do. 

And then fortune struck. Rodriguez was loitering outside a strip mall when he noticed a gentleman had accidentally dropped an item. Rodriguez picked up the item and returned it to its rightful owner, and the two quickly struck up a conversation over the set of golf clubs in the man’s vehicle. This chance encounter led to Rodriguez finding work as part of the greenkeeping crew at a local golf club. Rodriguez worked 6 days a week, often for 12 hours a day, and shared an apartment with his coworkers. Despite spending most of his time on a golf course, Rodriguez never had the chance to play on the course where he worked.

 

Back to Mexico

Rodriguez worked in the US for a decade, sending the majority of his earnings back to his family. He would later welcome his brother and father for stints working on the golf course. After 10 years, Rodriguez was ready to return back to his family. Upon returning to Irapuato, he saw that his family’s plot of land no longer contained a one room house but instead a pair of modern houses. His younger brother was able to finish his studies and later would finish law school rather than find full time work as Rodriguez had been forced to do. Rodriguez settled back into life and was soon working again as a caddy at Club de Golf Santa Margarita. 

It was on his return to Santa Margarita that Rodriguez had another stroke of luck: he befriended self-made man Alfonso Esquivel when he caddied for him. Esquivel took a liking to Rodriguez and appreciated his knowledge and hardworking nature. Soon Rodriguez was caddying with Esquivel daily. When Rodriguez was punished for playing with Esquivel during their daily rounds, Esquivel responded by buying him a membership so they could play whenever. It was Esquivel who first noticed Rodriguez’s talent and encouraged him to try his hand at professional golf, even going so far as to pay for Rodriguez’s a stipend while he trained for the Mexico Tour’s Q School. 

 

Turning Professional

Rodriguez, age 27, would qualify for and win an event on the 2008 Mexico Tour. Rodriguez would play several years on the Mexico Tour, winning 4 times in 2010. He would next tackle the Canadian Tour, finishing the 2011 season as the top earner. From their Rodriguez began playing on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, finishing 2nd in 2013 and earning a spot on the Web.com Tour. After a brief up-and-down stint on the Web.com Tour, Rodriguez returned to the PGA Tour Latinoamerica where he would again finish high enough in 2017 to try his hand at the Web.com Tour. By this time, Rodriguez had lost his father to natural causes and dealt with the murder of Esquivel, and he used the tragedy to help motivate his playing.

A strong 2018 on the Web.com Tour propelled Rodriguez to his current position on the PGA Tour. Rodriguez has had mixed results in his first 5 events, missing the cut twice, and his highest finish is a T41 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Still, Rodriguez is tackling his newest challenge one hole at a time and will look to bring that trademark grit to the Sony Open. He knows that he is a longshot, but that’s all he’s ever been.  


photo courtesy PGA Tour Latinoamerica

 

 


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