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Tuesday, August 6, 2002
Green wins, but continues to fly under radar




He won as many major championships as Greg Norman and Johnny Miller, the same number of PGA Tour events as Tom Kite and Ben Crenshaw.

He played against the greats, such as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino and Raymond Floyd -- and won his share.

The players on the young tour, some of them don't appreciate what they have. They go to the golf course on Tuesdays and Wednesdays without shaving. They wear tennis shoes. To me, a man who is making $500,000 to $1 million a year in his business does not go to work in tennis shoes and without shaving.
Hubert Green

But who figured Hubert Green had a chance on Sunday against Hale Irwin in the Senior PGA Tour's Lightpath Long Island Classic?

Battling the senior tour's all-time victory leader during the final round and then in a sudden-death playoff that went seven holes, Green finally rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt for the victory.

It was just his fourth senior victory, his first in two years, and it may have come as a surprise to some, seeing Green knocked off Irwin, a 34-time senior winner.

But if you judged the two players by their regular tour careers, who do you think would come out on top. Irwin won 20 times, including three U.S. Open victories. Green? He had 19 victories, including two major championships, a U.S. Open and PGA Championship. In fact, his are Hall of Fame credentials in a game that now often applauds far less.

Hardly Worldwide
Els

Those are the things that stick. So does the funky swing, the herky-jerk slap at the ball that is not taught in the instructional videos. It might have looked funny, but it worked -- Green won three straight tournaments in 1976 and had PGA career earnings of more than $2.5 million.

Then there is Green's rapid-fire delivery, one often loaded with sarcasm. He says what is on his mind, and sometimes it does not come off well. He is not afraid to say what he thinks about the tour he joined and the one he left.

"These guys know what the game of golf is about,'' Green said of the seniors. "The players on the young tour, some of them don't appreciate what they have. They go to the golf course on Tuesdays and Wednesdays without shaving. They wear tennis shoes. To me, a man who is making $500,000 to $1 million a year in his business does not go to work in tennis shoes and without shaving. To me, that's very improper to do that. "There's guys wearing Levis and Dockers out there. Not that Dockers are a bad pair of pants -- and I know some top players are wearing them under contract. But it's a gentleman's deal out here.

"These guys have almost all been there. To be here, you had to be a success out here last year or at some time in your career. These guys appreciate that.''

The idea behind the World Golf Championship events -- the Match Play, the NEC Invitational, the American Express Championship and the World Cup -- was to move them around the world.

But next year's schedule is shaping up to be an all-America affair, which sort of defeats the purpose.

The Match Play will return to LaCosta in Carlsbad, Calif., the NEC will go to Firestone in Akron, Ohio, an the American Express, which this year will be played in Ireland, is going to an Atlanta-area course. The World Cup will be played at Kiawah Island, S.C.

"What's the point of having a world golf tour if all the events are in the U.S,'' wondered British Open champion and South African native Ernie Els.

-- Bob Harig

And yet his arrival on the Senior PGA Tour and his subsequent career on the 50-and-older circuit have been met with little fanfare. Perhaps he slipped in under golf's radar, or simply got lost among a great group of players.

Whatever the case, it might be the story of Green's career. Now 55 and in his sixth season on the senior tour, the native of Birmingham, Ala., who now lives in Panama City Beach, Fla., doesn't lose any sleep over the apparent snub. But he is perplexed. Perhaps he said it best when asked about the slight upon his arrival to the Senior PGA Tour.

"You tell me,'' Green said to reporters when he made his senior debut. "You're the ones who created Fat Jack, Arnie's Army and the Merry Mex (Trevino). My job was to play golf. Your job was to give players notoriety. So why ask me? I'm just a player.''

If Green sounded annoyed, maybe it is justified. He was PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 1971, played on three Ryder Cup teams (he was undefeated in singles), won 16 tournaments in the 1970s at a time when Nicklaus, Trevino and Miller were among the players to beat.

He also missed a short putt on the 72nd hole of the 1978 Masters that would have tied Gary Player. And instead of strolling to a glorious victory at the 1977 U.S. Open at Southern Hills, Green played the final few holes after being told about a death threat.

Green, of course, appreciates being with them again. He's now won four tournaments and nearly $5 million in his time as a senior. The $255,000 he won on Sunday was the biggest payday of his career.

And, as he said, there is great beauty in playing the senior tour: "Even if you roll over dead, you still make a check,'' he said.

Major news
When Tiger Woods shot 81 during the third round of the British Open, it seemed to take all the air out of the PGA Championship. The fourth major of the year, to be played next week at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., was looking forward to having Woods come to town with a shot at the Grand Slam. That, of course, is not possible now, and the PGA seemed to take a hit.

But in addition to the fact that it would be just the third time a player won three majors in a year if Woods were to prevail, or the fact that Ernie Els could make a major statement by claiming a second major, or any of several other story lines, the PGA announced an interesting statistical coup: the tournament has commitments from each of the top 100 players in the World Ranking, making it the most impressive field in golf history.

Bob Harig, who covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times, writes a weekly column for ESPN.com.



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