Hubert Green, who used a quick, quirky swing to forge a Hall of Fame career, died on Tuesday at the age of 71 in Birmingham, Ala., after a long battle with throat cancer.
Green won 19 times on the PGA Tour and four times on the PGA Tour Champions. He captured the 1977 U.S. Open at Southern Hills by one shot over Lou Graham, despite playing the last four holes after receiving a death threat, and added the 1985 PGA Championship at Cherry Hills, beating Lee Trevino by two.
At the Masters, Green played at Augusta National 19 times between 1969 and 1990. He finished runner-up in 1978 after missing a short putt on the final hole.
"I never thought about it once after I missed it," Green told The Augusta Chronicle. "I hit a bad putt. My father told me a long time ago to do the best you can, then carry on."
Green said the missed 3-footer wasn't where he lost the tournament.
"What cost me was on No. 16, where I 3-putted from 15 feet," Green said.
Green won two of the last three Greater Jacksonville Opens, in 1974 and 1976 at Deerwood, before the tournament evolved into The Players Championship. He had three top-10s in The Players, including a tie for sixth in 1982, the first year the tournament was at the TPC Sawgrass Players Stadium Course.
He also added a victory, with Gil Morgan, at the 1999 Legends of Golf at the Slammer and Squire. Eight years later, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Green was a member of the Florida State golf team with veteran Jacksonville club professional and past PGA Tour Champions winner Bob Duval.
“Hubert had the greatest short game I ever saw,” Duval said. “He could get it up and down from a garbage can.”
Duval played with Green at the Champions Tour Championship at the Dunes in Myrtle Beach once when Green had a 6-foot putt – with a huge spike mark between his ball and the hole.
Green took out his sand wedge and chipped the ball over the spike mark and into the cup.
“I just laughed and told Hubert, ‘I don’t have that shot,’” Duval said.
Green had a swing in which he kept his hands low and after numerous twitches, would lash at the ball with a short, quick backswing. But he became one of the top winners on the PGA Tour in the 1970s and 1980s.
“Hubert tried to swing pretty once,” Duval said. “He stopped winning. He told me he was going back to his regular swing and he started winning again.”
Another former Florida State teammate, Bob Mielnokowski of Jacksonville, said Green was never shy about tinkering with his swing or putting stroke.
“Hubert was putting left-hand low in college at a time when nobody did that,” Mielnokowski said. “Then he putted with his hands separated for awhile. We’d tease him and he didn’t care. He told us he was going to do whatever he had to do to get the ball in the hole. He had a great work ethic and was always looking for ways to play better.”
Mielnokowski said he knew Green had the goods when the two were paired together during a 36-hole team qualifier at the Capital City Club in Tallahassee.
“I shot 70-71 and Hubert shot 65-65 and made it look easy,” Mielnokowski said. “I knew then he was in another league from me.”
Green had nerves of steel on the golf course – especially during the 1977 U.S. Open when USGA officials informed him of a death threat when he had a one-shot lead through 14 holes in the final round. The threat said Green would be shot on the 15th green and officials offered to clear the golf course or suspend play until Monday.
Green chose to keep playing, in front of the galleries,and played his last four holes at even par to win.
His final PGA Tour victory came at the 1985 PGA as he pulled away from a tie with Trevino with five holes to play.
Green also was a solid Ryder Cup player, going 8-5, with a 3-0 record in singles.
Green was born in Birmingham and grew up playing at the Birmingham Country Club.
“PGA Tour Champions is saddened by the passing of Hubert Green, a determined champion and a loving family man,” PGA TOUR Champions President Greg McLaughlin said in a statement. “Hubert will be remembered for his tremendous career and witty one-liners. The game of golf is a better sport because of the impact he made during his Hall of Fame career. Our sincere condolences are with Green’s family during this time.”
Green is survived by his wife Becky Blair, of Birmingham; three sons, Hubert Myatt Green, Jr. (Liz) of Hurricane, Utah; Patrick Myatt Green; and James Thomas Green (Adrienne) of Panama City, Florida; sisters Melinda Green Powers (J. William), and Carolyn Green Satterfield (William H.), and brother Maurice O. V. Green (Annette), all of Birmingham.
He and his wife had five grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.