By JEFF BABINEAU
The late Albert Huey Green, a light-hitting semi-pro baseball player who went on to become a doctor in Birmingham, Ala., imparted simple boyhood lessons on his young son, Hubert, that would endure a lifetime. He always told Hubert that if you’re going to cut the grass, cut all the grass. And if you one day choose to dig holes for a living, then dig a good hole.
Hubert Green didn’t end up digging holes. Instead, he filled them with golf balls in a gritty career that has spanned the better part of four decades. He won 19 PGA Tour titles, among them two majors, including the 1977 U.S. Open at Southern Hills under a death threat.
Green was told of the alleged plot to take his life on a red-hot, already pressure-packed Sunday in Tulsa, Okla., as he made his way from the 14th green to the 15th tee. He was given several options (including the possibility of clearing the golf course), but decided to do what he does best: forge on, straight ahead, never giving pause to look back.
“Well, you can only be so scared,” Green said in a recent interview. “Just trying to win was scary enough. . . . I wasn’t concerned about the death threat; I didn’t think it was a real threat. And I had other business to worry about.”
Green always conducted his business in a one-of-a-kind way. A self-taught player who had a legendary basketball mind (Hugh Durham) as his college coach at Florida State, Green had a crouched, unorthodox swing and was a terrific driver of the golf ball. When he chipped, he gripped way down on the club and made himself into one of the game’s classic scramblers, helping disguise what he considered a weakness: his putting.
But he always seemed to find a way to score and to win tournaments. When he won three consecutive starts in 1976, two of the victories came over Jack Nicklaus. When he captured the 1985 PGA at Cherry Hills, he stared down Lee Trevino. Winning was paramount.
“Second place,” Green says, “is first loser in my mind.”
As straight as he is on the golf course, Green is straighter off it. He offers candid observations, calling things exactly as he sees them. It didn’t make him the Tour’s most popular player.
“He’s somebody you’d want to go to battle with,” said fellow Champions Tour player Dave Stockton, a teammate of Green’s in the 1977 Ryder Cup. “He wasn’t intimidated by anybody. He wasn’t intimidated by any golf course. He wore his heart and wore his emotions on his sleeve, and it rubbed some people wrong.
But Hubert never said a word he didn’t believe was true.
“I’m just glad he got into the Hall. I know he offended some people probably in the abrupt way that he did stuff, which probably prevented him from getting in earlier, but he’s certainly deserving of going in.”
Green’s former caddie, Shayne Grier, said Green was tenacious inside the ropes, but always very positive in his outlook.
“I can’t ever remember him getting down on himself,” said Grier. “I think that’s something
that carried over to this other challenge in his life.”
That would be cancer. A dentist informed Green of an abnormal growth on the back of Green’s tongue in April 2003; a month later, a doctor told him he had Stage 4 cancer. As he went through radiation and chemotherapy, Green kept friends and strangers alike apprised by creating his own Web site. He termed his battle a “nine-hole match with the Devil.”
“There’s the medical thing to it (cancer), but there’s the human part of it, too,” said Grier. “Of the people you know in life, I felt Hubert would stand up to it quite well. And it appears he has.”
Green says today he has a “clean bill” of health. He won his match, but with a price. Radiation atrophied the muscles in his shoulders, harnessing a shoulder turn that never was very big. He still loves to hit balls and practice, but after losing 25-30 yards off the tee, he finds it hard to compete. Green keeps to a limited Champions Tour schedule.
“I never was long,” he said. “Now my short game is my tee shots.”
It’s further evidence of Green’s terrifically dry sense of humor. He misses the competition, the rush of being in the hunt, but he’s realistic, too. At 60, he accepts the fact his body isn’t what it once was. “The process of life,” he calls it.
The process of Hubert Green dictates that he’ll quietly enjoy his Hall of Fame induction, fear making his speech, and won’t do too much reflecting. He never has found much value in it.
“I was always told, ‘Never look back; always look ahead,’ ” Green said. “You can get frustrated or mad over a bad shot, but hey, it’s over with. You’ve got to look ahead, to the next shot, the next situation. Like surviving cancer. You take one day at a time and keep on working at it.”
Just one more basic lesson in a life guided by them.