He'll gladly expound on almost any topic. His harangue on the good people who bring you the Masters is this: "They don't set up the course properly. They make the greens too hard and too fast, and the pin placements are suspect. Hell, the greens are unplayable. You can never tell them [the Masters officials] what to do or give them suggestions. But I give them all the credit in the world for pulling off the scam they do. No matter how they set up the course, everyone shows up. If any other Tour stop did that, nobody would show up."
Yet many people, even Masters-loving people, are fond of Green. Frank Chirkinian, the producer of golf telecasts for CBS Sports, who makes his home in Augusta and considers the Masters "the greatest theater in the world," is among them. "He's a likable guy," says Chirkinian, "and he can play like hell. But I object very strenuously to his demeanor, to his cavalier attitude, to some of the things he says. He belittles his game with his actions and his pronouncements."
Says fellow pro Payne Stewart, who is a great believer in preserving the traditions of the game, "He's not afraid to hit any shot, and he doesn't worry about the outcome, which is a great attitude to have. But some of the things he does are unprofessional."
Most irritating to Stewart is Green's habit of tossing his club to his caddie. "We were paired together at Nabisco in November, and on the 1st hole he flipped his putter to his caddie," recalls Stewart. "The thing went right past my nose, missed me by about two inches. If it had hit me, it would've gone back to him in two pieces."
Adds another pro, Lanny Wadkins, of Green's flipping routine: "He and his caddie have gotten pretty good at it. It looks as if they practice in the hotel room." Green says he tosses his clubs to relieve tension, and he insists that he doesn't practice the routine. He's not a big believer in practice of any sort.
What Green chiefly believes in is himself. His self-confidence has been brewing since he was 12, when his parents split up while the family was living in Honduras. Ken had to decide if he wanted to return to the States with his mother, Jane, and his older brother and sister, or stay in Honduras with his father, Martin, who was principal of the American School in Tegucigalpa. Martin believes that when you have made such an important decision at age 12, choosing between a seven-iron and an eight-iron years later isn't so tough. "He learned that in this world you have to make choices and live with them," says Martin. The boy decided to stay with his father.
Martin belonged to a local club that had a nine-hole course, and before long, Kenny found himself infatuated with golf. He liked whacking the ball, but he loved the short game. He also loved to compete, most often imagining himself playing against Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. He always won. In 1971 he represented Honduras in the Central American Junior Golf Championships in Managua. Once, when Martin was in Florida for a conference, Kenny arranged to get himself to Costa Rica for a junior tournament.
In 1973 Martin returned to the U.S. to take a job as principal of a school on an Indian reservation. Kenny, who was 14 at the time and eager to play high school golf, decided to return to Connecticut to live with his mother and siblings. Jane worked as a bookkeeper and bartender in the Woodbury area to help support the foursome.
At Nonnewaug High, Green's golf was good but his attendance record was not. "I knew by then I was going to be a professional golfer and the stuff in the classroom wasn't relevant to what I wanted to do," he says. When he did show up for school, he was usually late. "I'd stay up till dawn watching old movies on TV," says Green, who is still a movie buff and still likes to sleep late.
His coach, Bob Dibble, remembers calling Green at home or picking him up to make sure he got to school. "There was a rule that you couldn't compete in an athletic event if you weren't in school by 10:30 a.m.," says Dibble. "On the days we had matches, Kenny always managed to just beat the deadline."