SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
June 27, 1977
Hubert Green had to withstand not only a final-round challenge from his rivals but also a death threat over the last four holes. He did both to take the U.S. Open
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June 27, 1977

Talk About Total Pressure

Hubert Green had to withstand not only a final-round challenge from his rivals but also a death threat over the last four holes. He did both to take the U.S. Open

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When a more bizarre conclusion is scripted for the U.S. Open it will have to be written by Woody Allen. Picture this. A guy is clinging to a lead about as wide as a bead of sweat with the first major title of his career within his reach. Then out of the trees on the 14th hole come nine uniformed and armed policemen. From TV towers, ABC cameras swing over Tulsa's Southern Hills golf course, not shooting the tournament but scanning the crowd of 20,000 lining the fairways and clustered around the greens. At the 14th green a group of USGA officials is conferring quietly. Hubert Green, 30, the tournament leader by one stroke, putts out, and Sandy Tatum, the vice-president of the USGA, draws him aside. Green is informed that a telephone call, probably one of those that sick people make, has been received by a clerk at the FBI office in Oklahoma City. A woman has said that three of her male friends are on their way to Tulsa to rub out Green.

Play stalls. Finally Hubert moves to the 15th hole. Photographers down the fairway suddenly find their view obscured by city police. Green tees up his ball. He then takes an understandably nervous swipe at it and the ball hooks wildly toward the trees. If the ball goes as deeply into the woods as it appears it might, golf's most precious tournament will belong to Lou Graham, who is the fellow putting the most heat on Hubert and keeping the tournament from becoming a yacht race.

But good things should happen to a man who has been victimized. Green's tee shot at the 15th strikes a tree trunk and comes to rest in the rough, leaving him a clear shot to the 407-yard par-4 hole. He lofts a nice, gutty iron onto the green and gets the putt down in two for a par. It seems routine to those who do not know about the extra strain that has been placed upon him. Open pressure is quite enough, usually.

Hubert's drive and second shot at the 569-yard par-5 16th look a bit shaky. But that's where he jams a pitching wedge up there for a cough-in birdie and gets the two-stroke advantage he desperately needs to survive Lou Graham, the rugged course, the steaming climate and Hubert's own nerves.

At the 17th hole, where Graham had hit one of the most confounding three-irons in the history of low, dark, prowling hooks to stay in contention, Green does something equally marvelous. He gets a 40-foot putt close enough to secure a par from a place on the green where the ball has to travel up and over and down by way of a Ramada Inn.

Now comes the 18th, where Hubert has to sit on his golf bag and wait for what seems like 9,000 hours while people named Gary Jacobson and Don Padgett finish the hole. Jacobson has hit under the immense scoreboard. Padgett is in a trap. But Green sits there calmly and then strolls over to chat with some USGA officials.

Apart from a homemade bomb or some distant rifle fire, Green's problem is to make sure he makes no worse than a bogey 5 on this great finishing hole that has humbled Jack Nicklaus, for one. Nicklaus bogeyed it every day. Green drives safely enough into the light rough and can lay up with his second shot.

But to make the ending all the more suspenseful, he bounces into the front left bunker. From there a bogey is likely and worse is possible. Hubert gets the ball onto the green but is still 30 feet from the hole, and the putt has a left break and then a right. He hits it about three feet short. Standing over that second putt he may feel he needs a bulletproof vest, but he hits the ball right into the heart of the cup—a "center cut," the pros call it. With that, Hubert Green has a closing round of 70, which, along with his earlier 69-67-72, gives him a remarkable winning total of two-under-par 278 and the first major crown of a career that has long been underrated.

Death threats are not unknown in sport, but one rarely has been made to a golfer, and never in the U.S. Open. The chief of tournament security, Lieut. Charlie Jones of the Tulsa police, was informed of the threat about the time that Green finished the front nine. He immediately summoned Tatum and two other USGA officials by walkie-talkie. The men met on the paved apron of the clubhouse, finding privacy in its openness. The woman caller had told the FBI that the men would shoot Hubert on the 15th green, which is on the periphery of the course. By now, Green was putting out on the 10th hole. Jones already had a house near the 15th green under surveillance and had sent word to the plainclothesmen spread out on the course to work Green's gallery. Extra plainclothes-men had been called from downtown Tulsa and ABC had agreed to surrender some of its cameras to the police for more surveillance.

Before the tournament had started, Lieut. Jones had drawn up a "disaster memo" (later changed to an "emergency memo"), but his major concerns at the time had been tornadoes, kidnapping, pickpockets and prostitution. The memo did not deal with death threats.

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