After the Buick win, Green continued to improve, and in 1988 he broke through. He wound up fourth on the money list with $779,181 and won the Canadian and Greater Milwaukee opens in consecutive weeks. He also lost three playoffs, tied for second at the Pensacola Open and tied for third at the Nabisco. In three of those tournaments Green says he heard from the old voice on certain shots.
"I don't hear it as often as I used to, but I still hear it every so often." he says. "Seventy percent of the time it's on putts of six feet or less. It's like a little bit of Satan sneaking out. When I conquer it, I'll be pretty impressive."
With or without the voice. Green is an exceptional putter. He isn't at the otherworldly Ben Crenshaw-Seve Ballesteros level, but he's just one tier down, on the Calcavecchia-Paul Azinger floor. Last year Green finished fifth on the Tour in putting, averaging 1.74 putts per hole, and first in eagles with 21.
In November he won the Dunlop Phoenix Tournament in Japan and $221,000. The next week Green earned another $100,000 for a third-place finish at the Million Dollar Challenge in Sun City, South Africa. "Boycotts in sports accomplish nothing," says Green in defense of his decision to play in South Africa.
"To make it on the Tour, you need three things," says Kostis. "You have to have talent and confidence in that talent; you have to have one and only one teacher; and you have to have a personal rock. Kenny survived for a while on the first two. He broke through in '88 because he had the third. Ellen, his new wife, is his rock, someone he can tell everything to, his biggest dreams and his worst fears."
Green refers to Ellen as "the wife." He mentioned her in a live interview with CBS last year. He was the leader after the third round of the Westchester Classic, and commentator Steve Melnyk asked Green about his plans for that night. Answered Green, "I'll try to keep myself busy, you know, maybe I'll beat up the wife or go to a movie or have some beers or something, anything to keep my mind off of golf."
The wife was standing at his side, off-camera. "I almost puked when he said that." says Ellen. "It was in extremely bad taste. He was trying to be funny, but there was nothing funny about it. We went home and had a long, serious talk about it. I said, "Wife-beating is real and it's horrible. It's not something you treat lightly.' He realized how stupid it was [to say it]."
Ellen and Ken had an algebra class together when they were juniors at Dan-bury High. They didn't really know each other, though. "I remember he used to wear those golf shirts all the time. Not the nice ones but brown ones with the stiff collars. What a nerd."
They met again in Danbury in 1986, after Ellen had graduated from college, spent a year in Tunisia with the Peace Corps, attended the 1984 Democratic Convention, been married and divorced, and had two children. They hit it off. "I learned something." says Ellen. "Just because a person looks like a nerd and talks like a nerd and acts like a nerd doesn't mean he is a nerd."
Ken and Ellen's marriage has caused some family tension, most notably in Ken's relationship with his sister. At the beginning of the 1987 season, Green fired Shelley as his caddie and hired their cousin Joe La Cava, who still has what these days is a lucrative job. Green declines to discuss the matter. Shelley believes that Ellen did not want her around. Ellen says that's not true. "We never even got a chance to get to know each other," says Ellen.