It used to bother Hubert Green that people couldn't remember who he was. Even after he had been on the tour four years and had won three tournaments, they were still confusing him with another golfer, Bert Greene or, worse, overlooking him altogether. He strode the fairways anonymously, with only an occasional good old boy from Birmingham to bellow, "Git 'em, Hubie!" Eventually he took to wearing green clothes, and that helped a little. So did the fact that he continued to win tournaments and make money.
But it was not until last week that Green, now known far and wide as Hubie, became big news. When he won the Heritage Golf Classic at Harbour Town on Hilton Head Island, S.C., with rounds of 68-67-66-73 = 274, he joined a select group of golfers, the winners of three consecutive tour events. The last to do it was Johnny Miller in 1974. Before that there were Arnold Palmer in 1960 and 1962, Billy Casper in 1960, Jim Ferrier in 1951, Bobby Locke in 1947, Ben Hogan in 1946, Sam Snead in 1945 and Byron Nelson in 1944. Only two players have had longer strings—Jackie Burke Jr. with four in 1952 and Nelson with his unapproachable 11 straight in 1945.
No one can explain why a golfer of Green's caliber—good but not great—is suddenly able to win three straight tournaments. Green attributes his superb play to a slight adjustment in his putting stance—moving his hands a little farther ahead and playing the ball back a little farther—which is enough to explain a good round, not three tournaments. But Green has a self-deprecatory kind of wit. He likes to allude to the meager size of his brain, comparing it variously to an egg, a pea or an unusually small green. The posture of an easygoing country boy, the down-home badinage with the press are a thin disguise for a high-strung and fiercely competitive personality.
"I go for the pin at all times," he said recently. "I don't want to finish second three weeks in a row. I just want to win. I always try to get the ball on the putting surface. To me it's not a gamble. It's the way I play the game."
April 5, 1976
Until he began his streak, Green's best finish this year had been a tie for 11th at the Crosby. When he missed the cut at the Citrus in Orlando, Fla. four weeks ago, he went straight to his house at Bay Point near Panama City in the Florida panhandle and began hitting balls. One day on the practice tee he hit 250 drives and then, because all the caddies were busy, picked up the balls himself.
The next week at Doral he played the Blue Monster in 66-70-65-69 = 270, 18 strokes under par. He beat Jack Nicklaus and Mark Hayes by six unarguable strokes. He was hitting his irons so long, he said, he was unable to gauge them.
The next week at the Deerwood Club in Jacksonville he opened up with a routine 72, but then, with two straight 67s and a 70 on Sunday, he won again, this time by two strokes over Miller Barber. "I'm tired right now. I'm glad to get it over," he said. "Patience is something you have to learn out here. I'm a lot better than I was a couple of years ago."
His victory in the Heritage Classic was the most impressive. Harbour Town is only 6,655 yards long, but it is toughened with small greens, narrow fairways and a lot of water in the form of lagoons and salt marsh. It is ranked among the top 30 courses in the country, and it is one of the five or six best that the pros see all year. The winners of the Heritage—Nicklaus, Palmer, Miller, Hale Irwin and Bob Goalby—are a good measure of the quality of the course.
While Green, with his chicken-winged putting stance and his semicrouched address, is not quite poetry in motion, he does know his strengths. He is happiest, for instance, on the grainy Bermuda greens of the Southeast, the same kind he grew up on in Birmingham. "I'd rather putt on bumpy greens. I know how to roll the ball on them," he said at Doral. "When there is a lot of grain and I'm putting well, I should always have a two-stroke lead on the field."
While insisting he was getting more and more tired, in a sense his game at Harbour Town got better and better. After a first-round 68 that included four birdies in the first seven holes he said, "This is ridiculous. I'm not this good a golfer."
After the second-round 67 that gave him the lead by a stroke over Irwin, he said, "This pressure is like taking a college exam over and over again. I've made more birdies in the past three weeks than I've made in the previous year. I'm even beginning to get tired of raising my hand to acknowledge applause!"
Saturday's 66 was a peculiar round. Green parred only five holes, just one on the front side. The rest was nine birdies interspersed with four bogeys that put him 12 strokes under par, four ahead of his nearest competitor, Bob Murphy. His enterprise came close to foundering briefly when he made back-to-back bogeys at the 11th and 12th holes. After bunkering his tee shot at the 13th, his second shot hit a tree and found another bunker. With a third straight bogey staring him in the face, he began to make excuses to himself. "I'm so tired it's all right for me to make bogey here," went the refrain. But Green is not the golfer he used to be. The new Green got himself out of that mental trap and saved par.
"He's tired, but he has control," said his wife Judi the next morning. "He has discovered for the first time how strong he really is."
Hubert spent Sunday morning cooking a breakfast steak for himself and entertaining 7-month-old Hubert Myatt Green III at the Greens' rented villa across the street from the clubhouse. When his 1:22 tee time finally arrived, he began with a three-putt bogey from 45 feet. But Murphy, playing in the group just ahead and the golfer in the best position to turn the day into a contest, triple bogeyed the second hole. So Green's bogey actually gained him two strokes.
With a 20-foot birdie putt on 6 and another bogey after a poor bunker shot on 7, Green made the turn one over for the day, 11 under for the tournament. Nicklaus, playing with Green and Graham Marsh in the last group, had started the day eight strokes back. He picked up two on the front nine and was five behind at the turn. But on the back nine Nicklaus, too, made it easy for Green. He bogeyed 10, 13, 14 and 18 and finished two under in a tie for 11th.
In fact, not one of Green's five closest pursuers at the start of the final round was able to make up any ground on the winner, even though Green shot a 73, his first over-par round in three weeks. Jerry McGee, 10 strokes behind through Saturday, holed a bunker shot at 18 for a 68 and took the second place that nobody else seemed to want, five strokes back.
Standing on the 12th green at midafternoon Sunday with a five-stroke lead, Hubert remarked to Nicklaus that it seemed to him as though he had it won. Nicklaus, looking at a 10-foot putt, replied, according to Green, "Dooon't bet on it, boy." Green hurriedly apologized. And Jack missed the putt. March was that kind of month for Hubert Green.