Sports

US Open Countdown: Green shakes off death threat to grab 1977 title

77th U.S. Open | June 16-19, 1977

Southern Hills Country Club, Tulsa, Okla.

Leaderboard

Hubert Green, United States 69 - 67 - 72 - 70 278
Lou Graham, United States 72 - 71 - 68 - 68 279
Tom Weiskopf, United States 71 - 71 - 68 - 71 281
Tom Purtzer, United States 69 - 69 - 72 - 72 282
Jay Haas, United States 72 - 68 - 71 - 72 283
Gary Jacobsen 73 - 70 - 67 - 73 283

In his first seven seasons on the PGA Tour, Hubert Green had already won 11 times. Colleagues figured it was only a matter of time before the Alabama native would be a serious threat at a major.

But in the 1977 national open, the word “threat” — as the world of golf would later find out — was not taken lightly.

In one of the most bizarre final rounds in U.S. Open history, Green emerged as the wire-to-wire winner on these steamy rolling fairways, edging a group of 12 golfers who entered the last day within three strokes of the lead.

Green should have celebrated this victory with unbridled excitement. Instead, he was worn out and more relieved than anything. A threat on your life does that to a man.

With Green on the course during the final round, a phone call made by an unidentified woman to the FBI office in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, claimed three men were on their way to Southern Hill Country Club to shoot and kill the golfer.

The attempt on Green’s life, the caller admitted, would come on the 15th hole.

USGA officials, including Frank Tatum, the chairman of the association’s competition committee, called in local authorities to discuss how to handle the death threat. The parties agreed that Green needed to be informed of it.

As Green walked off the 14th-hole green, he was given the lowdown.

Three options were given:

• Stop play, clear the course and then finish the tournament without a gallery.



• Stop play, and finish up the following day.



• Or continue playing as if nothing was wrong.



Green elected to keep playing, saying, “It’s probably nothing.” Tournament officials were not taking any chances as police officers with crash helmets and guns accompanied Green, caddie Shayne Grier and playing partner Andy Bean, and FBI agents infiltrated themselves throughout the gallery.

Nervously, Green sent his next tee shot on a sweeping hook into the trees. He got a fortuitous bounce, leaving him a clear shot to the green, which he took advantage of to make par.

On the next hole, a par 5, Green left his chip 18 inches from the cup for a tap-in birdies, giving him a two-stroke advantage with two holes remaining.

Graham was at his absolute best — his 136 total over his final two rounds tied a U.S. Open 36-hole scoring mark — but he did miss a 4-foot putt for birdie at the 17th hole that could have closed the gap.

Green made a 4-footer for bogey on the finishing hole for a final-round 70 that gave him the U.S. Open title — the first of two majors. He did one post-round interview about the incident, and rarely spoke publicly of it during the rest of his career.

“I remember saying, ‘Chicken’ (at the end of the round),” Green said years later. “I didn’t say it loud.”

To this day, nobody knows how serious the threat was — or if it was a hoax.

Oddly enough, this was also the first time all 18 holes of a final round at a U.S. Open were televised. ABC Sports broadcast Green’s win.

todd.milles@thenewstribune.com

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