By the middle of his junior year Green's truancy hadn't improved, and he was on the verge of getting kicked off the team. He quit school first. At night he bowled, maintaining a 190 average, and shot pool. (Those two activities still dominate his evenings, along with video games and Ping-Pong.) But his days were dedicated to golf. He became a fixture at Richter Park, an outstanding public course in Danbury, and a caddie at the private Ridgewood Country Club. Late in the day, when the fairway sprinklers at Ridgewood were turned on, Green would putt and chip and hit pitches and bunker shots until dusk gave way to night. He eventually finished high school at Danbury High and graduated from Palm Beach Junior College, but his aim was always the same.
When he turned pro in 1979 at age 21, his ball-striking ability was largely undeveloped but his short game was so good that he could consistently shoot par on short public courses. He was good enough to win Nassaus against unsuspecting customers but not good enough to make a living playing tournament golf. In 1979, '80 and '81 Green entered more than 100 minitour events. He won four of them but earned no money to speak of. Jane, who was still holding down two jobs, helped him out during those years. His game improved, and in 1981 Green made it through the PGA Tour qualifying school on his third attempt.
By that time he had married Savera Rotella, who is 12 years his senior. In the winter of 1982, Ken, Savera and Kenneth II, who was born in December 1981, began traveling together on the circuit once known as the golden grind. That year Green won $11,899. In 1983 the $40,263 he won was about $5,000 short of his expenses for the year. In '84 he finished 156th on the money list with $20,160 in winnings. Green was in the red. His marriage was dissolving. He went to a hypnotherapist.
At the '84 Tournament Players Championship, Paula Hinson, a Jacksonville hypnotherapist, had left flyers describing her services in the players' locker room. Green saw her four times that week. They discussed two topics: divorce and golf. "I felt in my heart Savera and I needed to get a divorce, but I couldn't verbalize it," says Green. "Paula helped push me over the brink. All she did was ask questions, and in that semi-sleep state, I found myself answering them honestly."
In their golf talks, Hinson says she found "a little voice in Ken that would come up at the worst times and say, 'You're not going to make it. You're a nobody.' " Hinson tried "to erase that voice or find ways for him to erase it."
Five years later, Green finds that the voice still comes and goes. But after the meetings with Hinson, whom he no longer sees, he asked Savera for a divorce. She was surprised. "Golf was always first with Kenny, I understood that," says Savera, who lives in Bethel, Conn., with Kenneth. "We were so broke, but he always managed to keep us together. Why he wasn't willing to try longer I do not know."
With the divorce in the works, Green asked Boca Raton, Fla., teaching pro Peter Kostis for help. "When he came to see me, it wasn't a question of. Can I make it?" recalls Kostis. "His attitude was, I need your help so I can make it."
Kostis, who classifies all golfers, considered Green to be "an Expressive." Expressives are players like Lee Trevino, Craig Stadler and Wadkins, for whom the mechanics of the golf swing should not become a priority. "An Expressive expresses himself by posting scores," says Kostis. "That's all he cares about, or that's all he should care about. What I did for Ken was free him up mentally so that he wouldn't have to think about the swing."
Before Green went to Kostis, his swing was a mess. He held the club with a weak grip, which promoted a fade, but played the ball back in a closed stance, which promoted a hook. He had a handsy, slashing swing that caused push-fades and pull-hooks. The more stressful the situation, the more hand-oriented Green's swing became, and the more trouble he wound up in. Kostis strengthened Green's grip, moved up his ball position, squared off his stance, improved his posture and got him to use his body in such a way that he wouldn't have to overwork his hands.
In August 1985, one month after his divorce became final, Green won the Buick Open and $81,000. His sister, Shelley, who had caddied for him through two lean years, wept with happiness. The victory seemed to come from out of the blue, but Green wasn't surprised. He knew that his new swing, coupled with his old attitude, would work. "The pro golf tour is a hard place to get on-the-job training." says Ray Floyd, who will captain this year's Ryder Cup team. "Ken is one of those rare players who could do it, and that tells you something about him and his game."