Hubert Green, whose unorthodox golf swing helped carry him to 19 PGA Tour victories, including one at the United States Open in 1977, when he continued to play despite learning of a death threat during the final round, died on Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala. He was 71.
The cause was complications of throat cancer, his nephew Andrew Green said.
Green had just finished the 14th hole at the ′77 U.S. Open, at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., when tournament officials told him that a woman had called to say that three of her friends were going to shoot him at the 15th hole.
Leading by one stroke, Green was told he could keep playing, wait for the course to be cleared of fans or resume play the next day without a gallery. He chose to continue without interruption, but accompanied by nine armed police officers.
“I was a little nervous playing the 15th hole, though, because that’s where I was going to be taken out,” he told Golf Digest in 2007. “I was on the green in two but a long way from the hole, and when I stood over the putt, I suddenly got the sensation that I was going to be shot at any second.
“As soon as I hit the putt,” he added, “I knew I’d left it short. I also knew I hadn’t heard a gunshot.”
Despite the tension, Green managed a par on the 15th and a birdie on 16. And, after a par on 17, he hit a short putt for a bogey to win by one stroke over Lou Graham. Police officers quickly swarmed him, protecting him as he left the course.
“In the end,” Dan Jenkins wrote in Sports Illustrated, “it could be said that none of the Ben Hogans or Bobby Joneses or Jack Nicklauses had ever won the Open under the very special kind of pressure that Hubert Green did.”
A year later, Green said in 2007, he received a second threat at another tournament. A note attached to his locker said: “Sorry I missed you last year at Tulsa on 15. We’ll see you today.”
Green never learned who made the threats, his nephew Andrew said.
Winning the U.S. Open gave Green his first major title. By the time he won his second — the P.G.A. Championship in 1985 — he had been concerned about a long-term slump that at one point put him 135th on the tour’s money list; he had been ranked as high as fourth in 1974 (with $182,459 in winnings) and 1976 (with $228,032).
Heading into the final round at the P.G.A., at Cherry Hills Country Club near Denver, Green led Lee Trevino by three strokes. They dueled the entire afternoon. After nine holes they were tied, but when Trevino bogeyed the 15th, Green went ahead for good. He won by two strokes.
Asked to compare his two major victories, Green reflected on the mostly lean eight years between them. “Maybe this means a little more than the U.S. Open because of that,” he told reporters, “and because I was winning back then and expected to win a major some time.”
It was his last win on the PGA Tour. But after turning 50, he collected four more victories on the Senior PGA Tour (now PGA Tour Champions).
Hubert Myatt Green was born on Dec. 28, 1946, in Birmingham. His father, Albert, was a physician, and his mother, Mildred Ona (Volentine) Green, was a homemaker who played the piano.
Hubert learned to play golf at Birmingham Country Club, where his parents were members, and graduated from Florida State University, where he was a star of the golf team. He won the Southern Amateur Championship in 1966, was the amateur champion of Alabama in 1967 and 1968, and finished fourth at the U.S. Amateur Championship in 1968.
He had an unconventional swing, which he acknowledged was not pretty: Crouching severely over the ball, he hit with a short, whipping motion. Jim Murray, the Los Angeles Times sports columnist, likened the swing to “a drunk trying to find a keyhole in the dark.”
Green earned his first professional win, at the 1971 Houston Champions International, in a playoff against Don January. Afterward, he recalled his emotions as he walked to the first sudden-death hole, where he sealed his victory.
“Well, hell,” he said, “I’m walking down No. 1 fairway and I sure can’t finish worse than second.”
He won twice in 1973, four times in 1974 and once in 1975. In a scintillating streak in March 1976, he won three consecutive tournaments.
Green had a third major victory in his sights when he led Gary Player in the 1978 Masters by seven strokes heading into the final round. Player passed Green by shooting a 64 — but they would have met in a playoff had Green not missed a short putt on the 18th hole. Later, Green denied speculation that he missed because he had been distracted by the sound of a radio sportscaster describing the action.
“I hit a bad putt,” he told The Augusta Chronicle.
He is survived by his wife, Becky Blair; his sons, Hubert Jr., Patrick and James; his stepsons, Richard and Atticus O’Brien; five grandchildren; his sisters, Melinda Green Powers and Carolyn Green Satterfield; and his brother, Maurice. His three previous marriages ended in divorce.
Green retired from competitive golf in 2009, explaining that radiation treatments for his cancer, which had been diagnosed six years earlier, had weakened his shoulder.
“It’s time to say it’s been fun and life goes on, hopefully,” he told The Birmingham News in 2009.
But he made exceptions. He continued to play recreationally and at the par-3 contest that precedes the Masters each year. And he played regularly in the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament, where two-man teams played on a par-3 course in Ridgedale, Mo.
At last year’s Bass tournament, Green and Allen Doyle won in the over-65 legends division, winning $60,000 each.
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