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Just Having a Fling
Michael Bamberger
January 30, 1989
Golfer Ken Green has become a winner without winning many friends
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January 30, 1989

Just Having A Fling

Golfer Ken Green has become a winner without winning many friends

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Ken Green, the putty-faced, bespectacled 30-year-old pro golfer who last year earned $1.1 million playing the game on three continents, stood in a courtroom in May 1985, describing his situation. He had $1,600 in his savings account, a bouncing checkbook and a beach bum's suntan. Judge John J.P. Ryan of Superior Court in Danbury, Conn., was worried because Green owed his estranged wife, Savera, $3,250 in alimony and child support, and where the money was going to come from was anybody's guess. "If he doesn't make it up by the end of June, then he's out of the golfing business." Ryan told the lawyers. "He has to get an income, a source of steady income."

No problem, thought Green as he jammed his fists in the pockets of his beltless trousers. No problem.

At the end of 1984, the investors who had bankrolled Green on the PGA Tour pulled out after having endured losses for three straight years. Green financed himself for the first three months of 1985 by betting, with unusual success, on college basketball games. When he had spent those winnings, he borrowed $2,000 from a friend. Soon after, Green found himself in court facing his wife. And all the while, Green was muttering his two-word philosophy of life to himself: "No problem."

Three months after that court hearing, Green, who had been scraping around the fringes of professional golf for six years, won his first PGA tournament, the Buick Open. Today, Green is codesigning a golf course in Hawaii. He will become—he predicts with typical assuredness—the "greatest architect in the history of the game." He lives in a half-million-dollar house in West Palm Beach, Fla. Sponsors seek him. Fellow-pros study his putting stroke. The ams who pay to play in pro-ams—successful businessmen, lawyers, judges—hope to draw Green as a partner. Spectators love his fast-paced and aggressive play—he aims at every pin, tries to reach virtually every par-5 in two, seldom lags a putt—and his chattiness. He also scores. He is likely to be a member of the 1989 U.S. Ryder Cup team. And that makes some of his colleagues sick.

"I'm not the most popular guy out there." says Green, referring to the PGA Tour, where, he says, he has "only two true friends." Mark Calcavecchia and Bill Sander. "I'm too emotional. I'm sure some players look at the pairing sheets, see that they're playing with me and say, 'Oh, geez. Why me?'

"I think of myself as confident," continues Green, who frequently competes wearing a green golf glove and green-and-white saddle shoes. "But people see me as smug."

Those people include certain players, fans, tournament sponsors, Tour officials, TV executives, friends and family members, most of whom also consider Green likable. That, however, doesn't mean they like the way Green flips his club to his caddie after almost every shot or his flip answers to questions or his flippant attitude toward some of golf's traditions and rules.

For instance, Green doesn't see why a touring pro should be penalized for signing an incorrect scorecard. "We shouldn't even have to keep our own score," he says. "The computer knows what you made as soon as you've made it, anyhow." He would rather negotiate a golf course by cart than by foot. "I cart whenever I can," says Green, who also likes to create verbs and other parts of speech whenever he can.

He thinks Tour players should be allowed to wear shorts on the links. "We're supposed to set an example for millions of other golfers, right?" he says. "But every day, millions of golfers tee it up wearing shorts, so what's the point?" Green believes players ought to be able to use profanity without fear of being fined. "I want to be the exact same way I am on the golf course as I am off it," he says. "When I'm off the golf course, I use profanity, so why shouldn't I use it when I'm on the course?" He does, anyway.

Galleries, he maintains, should be allowed to move and talk as they please. "We're professionals; we should be able to concentrate," he says. And he would rather win the Canon Greater Hartford Open or the Manufacturers Hanover Westchester Classic than the U.S. Open or the Masters. "They're the tournaments I grew up with," says Green, who's a native of Danbury.

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