125 Years of Golf in America: Alabama December 11, 2019

The USGA was founded on Dec. 22, 1894. With the 125th anniversary coming at the end of 2019, every week throughout the year we're highlighting how all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, make the game we all love a great one in the United States. 

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Watch: 1974 U.S. Amateur and 1976 U.S. Open champion Jerry Pate talks about golf in Alabama

Birmingham’s Green Known for Gutsy U.S. Open Victory

By Ron Driscoll and David Shefter, USGA

The late Hubert Green, 1977 U.S. Open champion, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, both grew up in Birmingham. (USGA/Steven Gibbons)

Birmingham, Ala., native Hubert Green was one of the most successful PGA Tour players of the 1970s. He earned his first Tour victory as a rookie in the 1971 Houston Open, and he became a fixture among the top 30 players on Tour for several years. But Green acknowledged that something was missing.

“You can’t be a great player if you don’t win in the majors,” Green insisted. “That’s where you stand up to be counted. And when it’s come my turn to stand up, I’ve sat down.”

In 1977, Green had his best chance yet to be counted among golf’s major champions. He led the U.S. Open Championship after each of the first three rounds, and he took a one-stroke lead into the final day at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla. The championship seemed like it was Green’s to lose when he was pulled aside by USGA president Sandy Tatum after Green completed the 14th hole on Sunday, still holding that one-shot edge.

“He said, ‘Hubert, we’ve received a threat on your life,’” Green recalled in a 2012 interview with the USGA. A woman had telephoned the Oklahoma City office of the FBI and said that three men were headed for Tulsa and planned to shoot Green on the 15th hole.

Green said that Tatum gave him three options: “We can stop play, clear the golf course and resume without spectators; we can stop play and come back tomorrow morning and put everyone through a metal detector, or we can continue playing. We’ll have uniformed policemen walking with you and lots of plainclothes officers in the gallery. You’ll be well protected. So I said, ‘Let’s play ball.”

Lou Graham, the 1975 U.S. Open champion, had finished his round at 1-under-par 279, and Green was 2 under. Green proceeded to hit a wild tee shot on the 15th hole, but the ball struck a tree and stayed in-bounds. He recovered to make par, then made a birdie on the par-5 16th for a two-stroke advantage. When he parred No. 17, he knew he could make a bogey on the demanding par-4 18th and still win.

“I drove it into the light rough, which was no problem,” said Green. “I told myself, whatever you do on the second shot, don’t hit it in that front-left bunker. So where do I hit it? The front-left bunker.”

Green “chunked” his bunker shot, leaving it about 50 feet from the hole. “Now I’m thinking, we’re putting a lot of pressure on ourselves.” Green ran his lag putt to within 3½ feet of the hole. After deliberating with his caddie Shayne Grier, he stood over the putt to win his first major title.

“I kept my head down a long time [after striking the ball],” Green said. “I heard it go kerplunk and said, thank you very much.”

Green talked little about the death threat in the ensuing years, but in 2012 he explained his reluctance to discuss the topic.

“It had to be someone trying to get publicity,” said Green, who had instructed caddie Grier to stay away from him without an explanation over the final few holes. “I had another threat the next year in Phoenix. Jack [Nicklaus] had them; the guys on the old Tour never talked about it. I didn’t want someone to think that they could stop a golf tournament. Let’s forget about it, play golf and come what may.”

Green was born Dec. 28, 1946, in Birmingham, the last of four children of physician Albert and Mildred Green. Green’s father instilled a love of sports and introduced him to golf. Green starred at Shades Valley High School before moving on to Florida State University. He won a pair of Alabama Amateurs and two Southern Amateurs, including the 1966 Southern Am on his home course, the Country Club of Birmingham.

A fourth-place finish in the 1968 U.S. Amateur at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, earned Green an invitation to the 1969 Masters. He enlisted in the Alabama National Guard, but his second Southern Amateur win in 1969 got him thinking about a career in golf. He was the Tour’s Rookie of the Year in 1971.

Green had six top 10s in seven years in the Masters, and he nearly added a green jacket to his U.S. Open title, missing a 3-foot putt on the 72nd hole that would have forced a playoff with Gary Player in 1978. He earned his 19th victory – and second major title – on the PGA Tour in 1985, outlasting Lee Trevino in the PGA Championship by two strokes at Cherry Hills Country Club outside Denver.

Green turned 50 in 1996 and won the first of his four victories on the PGA Tour Champions in his hometown, the Bruno's Memorial Classic in 1998. Green shot a final-round 64, making an eagle, four birdies and one par over his final six holes to beat Hale Irwin by one stroke.

At the 2005 Masters, Green received the Ben Hogan Award from the Golf Writers Association of America for his commitment to the game despite a serious illness. He had been diagnosed with throat cancer two years earlier during a routine visit to the dentist. By the end of 2003, the cancer was in remission thanks to a painful regimen of radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

“I know what I remember him for,” said two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2007, the same class as Green. “Tenacity, overachiever in a very, very positive way, and quite frankly, winning the [U.S.] Open under difficult circumstances on Sunday afternoon. I don't think there are many people that could have done that.”

Green died on June 19, 2018, at the age of 71 due to complications from throat cancer.

“The Hall of Fame was a nice touch,” Green said of his 2007 induction. “A final cap to a pretty good career. I never judged my career against others. I was just playing golf.”