Thursday, May 3, 2007

Welcome to the World Golf Hall of Fame

Welcome to the World Golf Hall of Fame Curtis Strange and Hubert Green. Curtis with your 17 tournament victories including back-to-back US Open championships in 1988 at The Country Club and ’89 at Oak Hill, you’ve ascended to the Valhalla of golf. Congratulations.

Hubert, what took you so long? You’re in by virtue of the Veterans Committee vote. Why you needed that is beyond me. I’ve always thought that 19 wins including the 1977 US Open at Southern Hills under death threats and the 1985 PGA Championship at Cherry Hills when you stared down Lee Trevino and won down the stretch would be enough. Obviously, I was wrong.

People will hear in the coming weeks and months that these inductees are two of the most irascible golfers ever to play the game. I’ve got to be honest. I’ve seen that side of them on more than a couple of occasions, but I’ve seen the other side as well.

It was about 10 years ago that I was sent to Panama City, Fla. to spend a few days with Hubert so I could write a feature article for the late, lamented Senior Golfer Magazine on his turning 50 and heading to the Senior Tour. Over the years, I had dealt with Hubert strictly on a professional basis. It was basically birdies and bogies and see ya’ later. This, I knew would be different.

Prior to flying to Florida’s panhandle, I spoke with Hubert on the phone, making arrangements to meet, etc.

I finally arrived at the Hombre Golf Club and was warmly greeted by Hubert.

“Come on with me and I’ll show you around,” he said warmly. We hopped in his convertible and he gave me a tour of his section of the Red Neck Riviera. As we traveled along, he’s point to a house and say, “I had that one built…that one too…and another over there. Yep, I’ve done a lot for the local construction business. Built one for each of my ex-wives.”

He later took me to his home on the beach, a small, but nice home. As we walked through his garage into the house, I was taken by the boxes of trophies lining the walls and asked about them.

“Yeah, they’re from tournaments I won, some on Tour I’m sure,” he said. As we went inside, the first thing I noticed was a trophy. Hubert noticed my interest.

“That’s the one that counts,” he said. “That’s my US Open trophy.”

I spent the next day talking with some of Hubert’s friends and predictably got a different perspective than his public persona. Then it was time to sit down and go one on one with Hubert, a man who was always at best an adversarial interview at best.

Before I asked the first question, he looked me in the eye and said, “I’m the type of guy no one likes because all I ever tell people is the truth.”

Figuring he’d only answer with the truth, I asked some pretty tough questions. He never smiled. He’d just look me in the eye and answer. When I wrote the story, I wasn’t real sympathetic to Hubert. On the other hand, I didn’t really rip him either.

I didn’t see him until months after the article came out. I was walking past the practice green at the Bank of America Classic, when I heard this southern drawl say, “Mr. O’Leary, I want to talk with you.”

Figuring I was about to have a public confrontation, I geared up for the worst. He waited for me inside the ropes. I walked in, expecting a verbal blast.

Instead, he extended his hand and said, “That was the finest story ever written about me. It wasn’t sugarcoated. It wasn’t mean spirited. It was honest and you know I appreciate honesty.”

I’ve had a couple of “thank yous” from subjects of some of my articles, but that’s one that I’ll treasure, because he’d never have said it if he didn’t mean it.

Curtis has a similar reputation and like Hubert has another side that the public doesn’t see. It was many years ago that he was heading to Quincy, Mass. to pick up a Boston Whaler he’d ordered. He realized that there was a tournament at Pleasant Valley that coming week and had his clubs sent north from his Virginia home. He entered the tournament and had a chance to win on Sunday and finished in the top five. It was a snarling top five because anything but number one didn’t count for him.

During that week, I got to know him a lot better and became privy to a wicked sense of humor that he kept under the surface. We renewed the acquaintance at the Players Championship the following spring. I asked him about the Boston Whaler. He motioned me to sit on the bench with him.

“This isn’t for publication,” he said, “but my caddy and I took it out for a fishing trip into the bay. Well, we were having a great time. We were fishing, drinking some beer, talking, drinking some beer, drinking some beer and fishing. The next thing we know, we’re in the currents heading towards the Atlantic. Finally, we were able to make shore. It was dark and we decided to wait until morning to try to get back home. The boat was doing great. I wasn’t.”

It’s a pity that side of Curtis never came through as a player or a broadcaster. The public missed a lot.

By the way, here’s a little friendly advice. If you see either Green or Strange at a Champions Tour event, or anywhere for that matter, do yourself a huge favor and don’t call them Hubie or Curt. You’d be inviting yourself to their dark side.

In honor of the two newest members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, pour me a beer in honor of Curtis and a smooth single malt scotch, an honest whiskey if you will, in honor of Hubert.



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