Skip to main content
Original Issue

The Greening Of The PGA

Shaking off five years of deep frustration, Hubert Green rose up and won his second major championship

Hubert Green, a scrambler who knows all about ups and downs, crawled out of the bogey-lined casket he had been in for the past five years and resurrected his game last week. Never blond, or beautiful, or very pretty on the course, Green was back from all those sad days and worse nights, now with a new swing and a new personality. The old Hubert Green, he said, was dead and gone.

All Green did was beat Lee Trevino, the defending champ, for the PGA Championship Sunday in a scorching head-to-head duel. Green's favorite definition of grit is "a garbage can full of guts." That he had, and to spare, as he broke out of a tie with Trevino and whupped him by two strokes at the Cherry Hills Country Club near Denver.

In his nightmare years he had plummeted as low as 135th on the money list. Last year he got a berth in the PGA by special exemption because the tournament was played at Shoal Creek in Birmingham, where he's a member. He said thanks at Cherry Hills by taking home the trophy.

Trevino, the master of look-'em-in-the-eye confrontation, had incentive aplenty. He could have become the first man in 48 years to win back-to-back PGA titles. But Green hung in there, controlling himself as well as a tricky course that through the week had drawn sharp criticism from most of the players.

But not from Green. "Who cares if it's fair?" he said. "Nobody said it had to be fair. In five years, no one will care."

Trevino had seemed a good bet after 36 holes when he moved into the lead with rounds of 66 and 68. Counting last year's, that gave him six straight PGA rounds in the 60s. But he shot a 75 on Saturday, a strange day on which the course took back nearly everything it had given on Thursday, when 31 subpar rounds were played, including a record 64 by journeyman Doug Tewell. High winds and a scorching sun dried the course to tabletop hardness, making the greens slick and sending scores soaring.

In fact, Green probably won the tournament Saturday. His 70 was one of just six subpar scores, the only one among the leaders, and it gave him breathing room. After 54 holes Green had a three-stroke lead over Trevino, and five over Tom Watson, Fred Couples and Nick Price.

In the end it was Trevino who made the mistakes under pressure. He had told his wife, Claudia, that he needed to shoot 68 to catch Green, and he was on his way with a front-nine 32. But over the last nine he three-putted twice, marring some great shotmaking. Green, after some early bogeys, steadied himself and played the final 13 holes in one under, closing with seven straight pars.

He came close to holing out from a greenside bunker at 18, just as a thunderstorm broke over the course. His rounds of 67-69-70-72—278, six under par, earned Green a cool $125,000 and boosted his career earnings to $2,023,240, 10th on the alltime list. The victory also automatically qualified him for the Ryder Cup team, whose captain is none other than Trevino. Lee took home $75,000, along with the knowledge that at 45 he is still a hell of a contender.

Trevino was disappointed, but perhaps not as much as Watson, who was attempting to win the only major championship to elude him thus far. Watson called the PGA "the cornerstone of my career." But with the tournament out of reach, he focused on making a last-ditch effort to qualify for the Ryder Cup team. Alas, a bogey at the final hole dropped him to a tie for sixth that allowed Fuzzy Zoeller to clinch the 12th and final Ryder Cup spot just ahead of Watson.

Another man who won't be on the team is Jack Nicklaus. Early on, Nicklaus was a solid contender at Cherry Hills. On Thursday, Nicklaus was four under par after 10 holes. He reached the green on the par-5 11th in two, but three-putted. He held on for a 66, but followed with a 75 and two 74s. On Saturday he lashed out at the condition of the course. "They made the best players in the world look like asses today," said Nicklaus, in an uncharacteristic outburst.

Green looked at it a little differently. Between 1971 and '81 he had won 16 tournaments, including three straight in '76 and the U.S. Open in '77, and he took them as they came.

The last few years he has been critical of the PGA Tour's trend toward cookie-cutter tournament courses: mushy greens, hairbrush rough, totally manicured conditions. But because of his slump, which had him literally mumbling to himself in his sleep, no one listened. "They've taken the shotmaking out of the game," Green said last week, his audience attentive at last. "Playing this golf course, you've got to get on the tee and think. We haven't played this kind of golf in a long time."

Nor had Green played the kind of golf he was playing at Cherry Hills. He had tried to rebuild his unorthodox swing in an effort to gain distance. Then, in 1983, he had to undergo arthroscopic shoulder surgery. A few weeks ago, while watching the British Open on television, Green had an idea that seemed the answer to his swing problems. He told his wife, Karen, who thought, "Here is theory No. 120-A."

For years her husband had "pumped" over the ball, his club moving up and down reflexively like one of those toy birds that dips its beak into water. "That guy is dead," Green said. "I buried him."

On Sunday, Green and Trevino were even after nine holes. "From then on it was match play," said Green. On the back nine Trevino made four blunders, bogeying the 10th when he drove into the rough, three-putting the par-5 11th after getting on in two, missing the par-3 12th with a hooked five-iron that was supposed to fade, and three-putting the 15th hole from 15 feet.

That last mishap dropped Trevino a stroke back, and when he drove into the rough on the par-5 17th, reaching for extra distance and a chance to hit the green in two, his fate was sealed. He bogeyed and fell two behind.

Green, meanwhile, had saved par with deft chips on the 13th and 14th, and was rolling the ball close for pars on the other holes. "It was nerve-racking," he said. "I think I lost about 25 hairs an hour out there." With the lead in his pocket, he could hit lay-up two-irons on the last three holes. So what if the last two were a little fat? Hubert Green was back. "People thought I was down and out," he said. "I was, but I wasn't gone."



During Sunday's suspenseful final round, Trevino and Green matched games and wits.



The new Green had the deft touch of old.



Benevolent in the first round, Cherry Hills later brought many a player to his knees.



Watson's quest for a PGA title fell short, as did his bid for the Ryder Cup team.