Human will is a magical power. It cannot be measured by a machine or device. Yet, as humans, we see it every day — whether it’s managing a family and job at the same time, or pushing through two more minutes of a grueling workout.
But these examples pale in comparison to the willpower on display by now-PGA golfer José de Jesús Rodríguez. His godmother calls him El Camarón, meaning “shrimp” in Spanish, because his face was bright red like a shrimp at birth.
His journey to get to where is he is today is the quintessential example of the indomitable will of the human spirit. Quite frankly, Rodríguez’s climb from obscurity is the essence of the American Dream.
And for this reason, the José de Jesús Rodríguez story needs to be told.
Every time he drives a ball down the fairway, or when he famously talks to his ball, he reminds himself how far he’s come — and how far he can go.
Rodríguez’s story begins on the banks of the Rio Grande.
So many hopefuls try to cross the treacherous river into the United States, but many either succumb to the powerful current or the U.S. Border Patrol. Rodríguez’s trek to the other side is a miracle in and of itself.
His own will to cross the river, let alone survive, got tested again and again.
“I knew I was taking a huge risk and that I could die crossing that river or anywhere for that matter,” Rodríguez recalls to PGATour.com.
Finally, on a Thanksgiving morning, Rodríguez embarked one more time across the violent waters and made it onto American soil. But his story doesn’t end there. In fact, it was just the beginning of his incredible journey to where he is today.
First, Rodríguez landed a job as a dishwasher in Arkansas, staying under the radar. Then, he helped build roofs on Walmart stores. Although he was making money to send to his family, Rodríguez grew frustrated and exhausted from the grueling hours of his work.
Something had to give. Then, all of a sudden, fate struck.
A job opened up at an Arkansas golf course. They needed a maintenance worker. The work, like his previous jobs, wore him down. But it opened him up to his future: playing golf.
After work, Rodríguez would play the course, rekindling his passion for the game, and fortuitously an angel entered his life that would change everything.
Alfonso Vallejo saw natural athletic talent, of course. But, most importantly, he saw strong values in Rodríguez. Vallejo, who owned several drug stores in Mexico, asked Rodríguez to caddie for him. He saw something different in Rodríguez from all of his other caddies.
Yes, Rodríguez had a knack for the game. But his ethics stood out to Vallejo. While Rodríguez was hungry and poor, he did not take what was not his, even when certain situations would’ve made it easy to do so.
With the support of mentors like Vallejo, Rodríguez turned pro in 2007. The problem was that the PGA Tour was off limits because of his lack of legal status in the United States. But the agent at the United States’ embassy saw what Vallejo saw in Rodríguez.
“He asked me a couple questions,” Rodríguez says. “I filled out a questionnaire, and he told me I was an honest person because I had told him truthfully everything I had done.”
Rodríguez’s genuine honesty and integrity yet again opened a door for him that was supposed to be closed. That is the beauty of an underdog: He or she does things the right way and treats people with respect, and that effort pays off in the end.
Rodríguez, however, would be tested yet again. Fast forward to December 2014. He’d been waiting for Vallejo to show up for a 6:40 tee time. He waited and waited, but still, no Vallejo. That’s when he received the worst phone call of his life.
Vallejo had been shot and killed in an armed robbery.
At that point, Rodríguez strongly considered quitting his golf dream, but his psychologist reminded him of the sacrifices Vallejo made for him. So, Rodríguez decided he was not going to be a shrimp. Instead, he’d return to his golf career in honor of Vallejo.
But the struggles weren’t over. A short while later, El Camarón faced another setback. After winning twice in Mexico in 2015, Rodríguez suffered the loss of his grandmother, and a year later, his father, Jota Jesús, succumbed to cancer.
A man can only be tested so many times before he cracks and gives into his suffering. But Rodríguez refused to quit chasing his dream. Instead, he channeled his energy into playing for Vallejo, his grandmother, and his father.
And he played on, winning the 2017 Avianca Colombia Open, the PGA TOUR Latinoamerica season-opener, only 20 days after his father’s passing.
“I felt a good vibe coming from above,” a tearful Rodríguez said. “I’m sure he was cheering for me up there in heaven and that he is very proud of me.”
It was not only his father, but also Vallejo and his grandmother.
Despite not playing a single full round between the ages of 15 to 25, Rodríguez had a gift to strike a golf ball.
“The first time I saw him on the driving range, I thought this guy is unbelievable,” says Mike Dwyer, a club caddie who began working for Rodríguez a week before he won his first Web.com Tour title.
“It’s just a pure swing, it’s not technical, it’s not going to go away. It’s just so rhythmic; the timing of it is always money, it’s free-flowing. Just straight back and let it rip, all feel. And then when I saw his short game, I thought, this guy has got it all.”
It’s crazy to think that this man, who supposedly has it all when it comes to a golf swing, often had only a single tortilla to share with his family.
“I’m an example so that people can see that you really can set your goals and really aspire to be something and reach those goals,” he said. “It just gives me more of a reason to keep pushing harder and to be better every day.”
Rodríguez is truly a story to root for. He is not just playing for himself, his family, Vallejo, and the entire country of Mexico, but also for anyone that has endured tough times to achieve success and happiness.
“I stop and think: Wow, life gives you a lot of opportunities,” Rodríguez says. “And I’m very thankful for this opportunity. Every time I play, I play like it’s the last day of my life.”
Thank you, Mr. Rodríguez, for reminding us of how one should live life and treat people along the way.