Hubert Green has been saying his good-byes for a few weeks now.
He'll get one last chance to do it again this week at the U.S. Senior Open at Inverness.
Come Monday, Green will take a leave of absence from his extended golf family, as he begins six weeks of treatment for cancer on his tonsils and tongue at Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Fla.
Just how long he will be gone, no one is quite sure.
There's only one certainty.
“I'm in a nine-hole match with the devil,” Green said.
He was diagnosed with cancer last month during a routine teeth cleaning when his dentist noticed a spot in his mouth and recommended he see a specialist. Subsequent tests have determined that the cancer - which was first erroneously reported as throat cancer - has not spread to Green's lymph nodes or any other organs.
“This is the hand I was dealt,” he said. “I can either fold or play. I can't ask for a reshuffle. I'm going to play to win.”
Green is a 34-year veteran who counts the U.S. Open and PGA Championship among his 19 victories on the PGA Tour. He said there are three ways to get cancer of the tongue and tonsils - from smoking, drinking, “or it could just be the luck of the draw.
“I did smoke cigars occasionally, and I do like a cocktail or two, but I just don't know how I got it. Nobody knows for sure.”
For the first three weeks of treatments Green said he will be required to put on a mask to protect the rest of his face and undergo 15 minutes of radiation daily, as well as a low dose of chemotherapy once a week. The radiation will be stepped up to twice a day for the last 12 treatments.
“A few weeks ago I was more teary-eyed than I am now, but I'm getting over it,” he said. “Things could be worse. You can go to St. Jude [Children's Hospital] and see kids 5 and 6 years old with no hair and a smile on their face. And you know they won't be there next year. Boy, that will set you straight.
“I'm 56. I haven't had a bad life. I've had a little fun.”
Green, a four-time winner on the Champions Tour, missed the cut three weeks ago in the Senior PGA Championship. At the time he thought that would be his last tournament, and bid good-bye to his buddies.
But after meeting with doctors in Alabama and Florida, and having four teeth pulled on the left side of his mouth, Green was told it would be 10 days before his mouth recovered and he could start treatment.
So he played in last week's Farmers Charity Classic in Ada, Mich., where he finished in a four-way tie for fourth and earned $68,625, and he is on the course again this week.
“I really want to play well because it's going to be the last good shot I have for a while,” Green said. “What I have is not contagious, and I might have a chance to make a little money to help pay the doctors.”
Green, who has earned $497,204 in 15 events this year, has been getting plenty of support from his family and his friends on the Champions Tour, whether it is on the driving range or the putting green.
“Good luck with your battle,” one woman told Green yesterday.
He thanked the fan, signed a program for her and kept moving down the lengthy autograph line.
“I've talked to a lot of survivors and I have a lot of people praying for me, but I can't worry about the cancer until next week,” Green said. “I've got to focus on playing this tournament.”
He said fellow pros Jim Colbert, Dave Stockton and Gil Morgan helped him find cancer specialists. And Jerry McGee, who won a similar type of battle with cancer, “has helped me prepare for what's ahead,” Green said.
“He's a buddy,” Fuzzy Zoeller said yesterday after playing a practice round with Green. “You always hate to see one of your comrades go down. ... I think he'll be fine. He'll get through this.”
Green and his wife, Michelle, have created a Web site - www.hubertgreen.com - at the suggestion of Penny Wadkins, Lanny's wife, who had friends going through a similar situation. The Greens plan to update the site regularly with information on Hubert's condition and progress.
Green won the 1977 U.S. Open at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., despite playing the last four holes under a death threat. His last win on the regular tour came at the 1985 PGA Championship.
Green was named comeback player of the year last season on the Champions Tour. Now he's bracing for the biggest comeback of his life.
“You don't get a practice round in a game like this. People tell me I won't feel too well after my treatments are done, that I won't have much stamina. But I'm going to get out here and try as soon as I can. I don't want to be away from my friends for too long.”