My father's name is Dr. Albert Huey Green. You take the Hu off Huey and the Bert off Albert, and you got me."
Hubert Green, the winner, going away, of the Jacksonville Open last week, of the Bob Hope Desert Classic last month and No. 2 man on the PGA money list this year, flashes the goofy grin that lights up his entire freckled face. "I'm a talker, no doubt about that. Give me a guy who likes to talk on the golf course and we'll wear your ears off. Talking to the gallery is the way I get rid of my nervous energy. I've had some players say, 'Now, Hubert, let's keep it quiet for awhile.' I don't feel bad about that. Nothin' wrong with tellin' me to shut up."
The accent is Alabama, the delivery is machine gun and the style, off and on, is that macho in reverse peculiar to the Southern male gentry.
"Hubert'll lay a whole lot of country music on you," says a PGA official. "Yeah, but he's smart," says Homero Blancas, a fellow pro. "I sometimes think Hubert is too smart to play golf. It only uses about 1% of his brain."
March 24, 1974
"Aw, I've got a brain the size of an egg," says Hubert. "I'm out here to win and I'm gonna have fun one way or another. But then, I can have fun watchin' paint dry."
In 1969 Hubert Green, 22, one year out of Florida State and "wearin' a size 12 hat" after six ego-gratifying years of amateur golf, was anxious to get out on the tour. All he figured he had to do was show up at the PGA Qualifying School in Florida in November, pick up his player's card, marry his girl back in Birmingham, pack his clubs in the trunk of his car and drive off into the rosy future. Only he blew it. All of it. Twelve young players earned their cards at the 1969 school after a 72-hole qualifying tournament. Hubert was 16th. Not only that, the girl decided maybe she'd go back to school instead.
Faced with a year to survive, somehow, before he could try for his card again, Green went to work as an assistant to Bill Kittleman, the head pro at the famed Merion Golf Club on Philadelphia's Main Line, a different kind of PGA school. "I learned what I didn't want to do for a living, and that's be a club pro," he says. "It's one of the toughest, most underpaid jobs in the world. I worked long hard hours and made $80.45 a week after taxes. Playing golf can be tough, too—I've played tournaments two weeks in a row with the flu and I didn't feel much like turning somersaults out there—but it beats working hard for a living."
On his second try at qualifying, in the fall of 1970, Green finished fifth in a class of 18 and the worst of his troubles were over. He began his rookie year by making the cut in 13 out of 17 tournaments, and in May he won his first, the Houston Champions International, in a sudden-death playoff with Don January. The win meant that his exempt status was secure for at least a year, his sponsors in Birmingham were getting their money back, and then some, and he was becoming known—known to sportswriters as Hubie, to galleries, in their understandable confusion, as Bert Greene (who has been around the tour for years) and to his fellow pros as the kid with the weird putting stance. Green would stand, doubled over from the waist, his knees locked, his feet planted at least a yard and a half apart and his elbows spread almost as far. His hands would be separated by several inches of club handle, and the stroke itself, according to an amused critic, resembled "the janitor sweeping the gymnasium floor."
"I played with Jack Nicklaus in my fifth tournament in 1971, The Hawaiian Open," he remembers, "and I said, 'J-J-J-Jack, m-m-m-my name is Hu-Hu-Hu-Hu-Hu-Hubie Green.' And he said, 'Y-Y-Y-You're the kid that putts so funny.' He cracked me up right there. I mean, he could have told me to jump in the lake and I'd have ran over there and dove in 'cause I was petrified of the man."
The putting stance is relatively conventional now, but Hubert's most daring conversion has been his swing—from flat to upright in the space of a year and a half. "Being brought up on Bermuda grass in Birmingham, where it sort of sets your ball up for you a little bit, almost like a tee, and also playing in a lot of wind in Florida in college, I was never worried about getting the ball high in the air. I took a very wide stance and had a big dip with my head at impact. But when you get in bent grass, the kind we play in up north, the ball sits down in it and you have to be able to hit down on the ball to drive it up in the air, something I couldn't do very well with my old swing."
While he was working on his new swing, Green's earnings fell from $73,000 at the end of his rookie year to $44,000 in 1972. In the meantime it was his excellent chipping and his peculiar putting stroke that kept him from dropping out of sight altogether.
"I wanted to change my putting, too," he says, "but I had to take things one at a time. I needed something familiar to fall back on when things got real bad, when I had a four- or a five-footer for a bogey. 'Cause I had an awful lot of four- and five-footers for bogeys in those days."
In the fall of 1972 Green married a sunny Southern Californian, Judi Rowlands, and as a new orderliness entered his life he bore down on his game. "Two mouths to feed and all that garbage," he explains. Judi undertook the letter writing, reservation making and the exotic housekeeping that living from the trunk of a rented car requires. She walked the course with her husband every day and listened sympathetically in the evenings. To this day her fiercest recorded remonstrance is, "Oh, Hu-bert!"
"She's a breath of fresh air," he says.
With a new swing and a new life-style Hubert began 1973 slowly, but about Masters time he began to hit his stride. While waiting for delivery of a new set of clubs he borrowed a graphite-shafted driver from Gay Brewer and discovered that it gave him an extra 10 yards or so and, with that, came the confidence he needed. He finished a respectable 14th at Augusta and two weeks later shot four rounds under par to win the Tallahassee Open. After seven finishes in the top 10 through the summer months he won again at the B.C. Open in September and wound up the year with $114,000. "Not bad for a skinny kid," he thought.
But apparently not good enough. Every few years, in the lull between the end of one golf season and the beginning of the next, sportswriters in search of a trend rediscover a species of golfer called the young lion. A young lion is any David in double knits who looks as though he might eventually knock off a Goliath or. two. This year's list includes everyone from a 26-year-old U.S. Open winner who has had four years on the pro tour to a babe in the rough of 21. A young lion is usually identified at 250 yards by the way his shining yellow hair bounces to the rhythm of his stride.
Poor Hubert. Missed again. Four months over the hill at 27, with dark curly hair that sticks obstinately close to his head. No media dogging his steps. No galleries to speak of. Just all those wins and that nice spot on the money list.
"I don't know what I did wrong," says Green. "I keep readin' about all those young lions and they're all the same guys I played junior golf with. Maybe it's because I have one gray hair."
By the end of this February, though, with the Bob Hope win behind him, Green was his ebullient self again. "Winning the Hope solved a lot of my problems," he says. "Even if no one else knew about it, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It was fun! I went home the next week and didn't play much golf 'cause everybody was tellin' me how good I was and I was sayin', 'Hey, tell me some more. And maybe a little louder next time.' "
For all his "country music," Hubert Green is a fairly serious fellow. "I feel like I'm an entertainer of sorts," he says. "People pay money to see me play or to play with me in a pro-am, and when they do I'm there to make them have a good time if I possibly can. I agree with Lee Trevino and Chi Chi that the crowd deserves somethin' better than a smoke look and a get-out-of-my-way attitude."
His ties to his hometown are strong. He is concerned that the rest of the country still equates Birmingham with Bull Connor, attack dogs and the like, and wants to be involved in letting people know things are now better in Alabama. He has promised his winnings from pro-ams this year, which he hopes will top $10,000, to the A. G. Gaston Boys Club of Birmingham. "Trevino and Homero share some of their earnings," he says. "Leonard Thompson gave away $10,000 of his Inverrary purse. I think more of us young players ought to do things like that."
As for his game, he assesses it with an unusually cold eye. "I am a good putter, an excellent chipper but a poor bunker player," he says. "I have become in the last year a good driver. I'd say one of the seven or eight most accurate on the tour when I'm playing well. My short irons are not bad and I've been working on my long irons for quite a while, and I'm improving. I have been a fair player trying to be a good player, and I think I'm beginning to be a good player. I'm growing. Lanny Wadkins and jerry Heard are good players. Johnny Miller and Tom Weiskopf are good players on the verge of moving into the great category. In my eyes I'm not quite in the good category yet."
O.K. Take a fair-to-good golfer with one gray hair, two wins and $82,000 in the bank by March, one who gets a kick out of watching paint dry, and ask him what he thinks of life. If he is Hubert Green he will shoot you a mischievous grin and say, "This year is going to be fun!"