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My father's name is Dr. Albert Huey Green. You take the Hu off Huey and the Bert off Albert, and you got me."
Hubert Green, the winner, going away, of the Jacksonville Open last week, of the Bob Hope Desert Classic last month and No. 2 man on the PGA money list this year, flashes the goofy grin that lights up his entire freckled face. "I'm a talker, no doubt about that. Give me a guy who likes to talk on the golf course and we'll wear your ears off. Talking to the gallery is the way I get rid of my nervous energy. I've had some players say, 'Now, Hubert, let's keep it quiet for awhile.' I don't feel bad about that. Nothin' wrong with tellin' me to shut up."
The accent is Alabama, the delivery is machine gun and the style, off and on, is that macho in reverse peculiar to the Southern male gentry.
"Hubert'll lay a whole lot of country music on you," says a PGA official. "Yeah, but he's smart," says Homero Blancas, a fellow pro. "I sometimes think Hubert is too smart to play golf. It only uses about 1% of his brain."
"Aw, I've got a brain the size of an egg," says Hubert. "I'm out here to win and I'm gonna have fun one way or another. But then, I can have fun watchin' paint dry."
In 1969 Hubert Green, 22, one year out of Florida State and "wearin' a size 12 hat" after six ego-gratifying years of amateur golf, was anxious to get out on the tour. All he figured he had to do was show up at the PGA Qualifying School in Florida in November, pick up his player's card, marry his girl back in Birmingham, pack his clubs in the trunk of his car and drive off into the rosy future. Only he blew it. All of it. Twelve young players earned their cards at the 1969 school after a 72-hole qualifying tournament. Hubert was 16th. Not only that, the girl decided maybe she'd go back to school instead.
Faced with a year to survive, somehow, before he could try for his card again, Green went to work as an assistant to Bill Kittleman, the head pro at the famed Merion Golf Club on Philadelphia's Main Line, a different kind of PGA school. "I learned what I didn't want to do for a living, and that's be a club pro," he says. "It's one of the toughest, most underpaid jobs in the world. I worked long hard hours and made $80.45 a week after taxes. Playing golf can be tough, too—I've played tournaments two weeks in a row with the flu and I didn't feel much like turning somersaults out there—but it beats working hard for a living."
On his second try at qualifying, in the fall of 1970, Green finished fifth in a class of 18 and the worst of his troubles were over. He began his rookie year by making the cut in 13 out of 17 tournaments, and in May he won his first, the Houston Champions International, in a sudden-death playoff with Don January. The win meant that his exempt status was secure for at least a year, his sponsors in Birmingham were getting their money back, and then some, and he was becoming known—known to sportswriters as Hubie, to galleries, in their understandable confusion, as Bert Greene (who has been around the tour for years) and to his fellow pros as the kid with the weird putting stance. Green would stand, doubled over from the waist, his knees locked, his feet planted at least a yard and a half apart and his elbows spread almost as far. His hands would be separated by several inches of club handle, and the stroke itself, according to an amused critic, resembled "the janitor sweeping the gymnasium floor."
"I played with Jack Nicklaus in my fifth tournament in 1971, The Hawaiian Open," he remembers, "and I said, 'J-J-J-Jack, m-m-m-my name is Hu-Hu-Hu-Hu-Hu-Hubie Green.' And he said, 'Y-Y-Y-You're the kid that putts so funny.' He cracked me up right there. I mean, he could have told me to jump in the lake and I'd have ran over there and dove in 'cause I was petrified of the man."
The putting stance is relatively conventional now, but Hubert's most daring conversion has been his swing—from flat to upright in the space of a year and a half. "Being brought up on Bermuda grass in Birmingham, where it sort of sets your ball up for you a little bit, almost like a tee, and also playing in a lot of wind in Florida in college, I was never worried about getting the ball high in the air. I took a very wide stance and had a big dip with my head at impact. But when you get in bent grass, the kind we play in up north, the ball sits down in it and you have to be able to hit down on the ball to drive it up in the air, something I couldn't do very well with my old swing."