Tough and talented, Hubert Green stood tall in an era of giants. Playing in primes of icons like Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Raymond Floyd, Johnny Miller and Seve Ballesteros, Green claimed two major championships among his 19 PGA TOUR victories. In three Ryder Cups, he was undefeated in singles play.
With a homegrown swing that featured low hands and a quick tempo, Green was one of the best chippers in history, and he made big putts with a split-handed grip and an old hickory-shafted blade. Although he often wore green slacks, he was most recognized for his one liners. Once, when playing partner Lanny Wadkins complained about his lie in the high rough at 1974 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Green dryly responded, “It couldn’t have been too bad. I could still see your knees.”
“Winning breeds confidence and confidence breeds winning.”
But Green’s humor couldn’t hide a competitive will that his coach at Florida State University, Don Veller, called the fiercest he ever saw in an athlete. It came to the fore at his finest hour, the final round of the 1977 U.S. Open at Southern Hills. Green was leading by a stroke when officials stopped him on his way to the 15th tee to inform of an anonymous caller claiming that three men were on their way to shoot Green when he reached the 15th green. Given the choice of suspending play for the day and coming back with no spectators the next day, or playing on, Green chose to continue.
“I was a little more nervous playing the 15th hole, though, because that’s where I was going to be taken out,” Green told Golf Digest. “I was a long way from the hole, and when I stood over the putt, I suddenly got the sensation I was going to be shot at any second. As soon as I hit the putt, I knew I’d left it short. I also knew I hadn’t heard a gunshot. I said out loud, ‘Chicken,’ and I wasn’t talking about leaving the putt short.” But Green made his par, and another birdie, allowing him the luxury of making a bogey on the final hole for the victory.
Hubert Green ranks in the Top 30 on the all-time money list.
The following year at the Masters, he came to the last hole one stroke behind Gary Player and hit his approach to three feet. As he was about to stroke the putt that would get him into a playoff, he was interrupted by the voice of a radio announcer. He readdressed the putt, and missed. Green refused to blame the announcer. “Only an amateur would have been put off by the interruption,” he said, “or try to make excuses about it.”
Born in Birmingham, Alabama on Dec. 28, 1946, Green grew up playing the Birmingham CC, where his parents were members. Lean and hungry, Green’s game was built on accuracy and a knack for getting the ball into the hole. “I just try to move an object from one place to the next,” he once said with typical pith.
The PGA TOUR’s Rookie of the Year in 1971, Green won four tournaments in 1974. In 1976, he won three more, all of them in a row.
The victories came less frequently in the 1980s, but Green’s last hurrah was a major, the 1985 PGA Championship at Cherry Hills. Battling Trevino in the final group, Green kept chipping and putting for pars to win by two. He called the victory the biggest of his career.
Green won four Champions Tour events from 1998 to 2002. In 2003, he was diagnosed with oral cancer, but after undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment, has continued to compete in tournaments.