Ken Green's haunting secret
During his prime in the 1980s and early ’90s, the dossier on Ken Green went something like this: Funny, always honest, unpredictable, unfiltered and quick with an opinion. Mirthful, but nobody’s fool. Likes the media, and they like him back. Plays boldly, swings fast, and embraces pressure, especially against tough characters such as Seve Ballesteros and Raymond Floyd. Green won five times on the PGA Tour, played on the 1989 Ryder Cup team and won several important tournaments worldwide. Part of the Green lore is how, in desperate need of money in the early 1980s, he bet on—and won—23 of 24 NBA games, using the windfall from his bookie to finance his way to the PGA Tour. Green slammed PGA Tour policy, flipped and buried clubs, swore, snuck friends into the Masters in the trunk of his courtesy car, hit balls through the sliding-glass doors of hotel rooms, played legendary money games for high stakes during practice rounds, and generally carried on in a way that delighted fans but kept administrators and even fellow pros on edge. Green was fined in the neighborhood of two dozen times and was mostly unapologetic. He had an unusual countenance, a mostly impassive face set behind large-frame, nerdy glasses. He dressed loudly, his trademark green shoes and glove providing a window to an engaging, fan-friendly personality.
People who got to know Green—even fellow players were wary about doing that—invariably liked him. During the 1990s and beyond, setbacks began to befall Green—injuries, a marriage breakup and prolonged custody battle, clinical depression, financial difficulties, and fighting off an alligator in his back yard. These were only a warm-up for the disasters that were to come at him. His older brother, Billy; girlfriend, Jeanne; and beloved dog, Nip, died in an RV accident in 2009 that resulted in the amputation of Green’s right leg below the knee (see “I Can’t Believe I’m Alive,” Golf Digest, October 2009). Six months later, his 21-year-old son, Hunter, died of a drug and alcohol overdose in his dorm room at Southern Methodist University.
Turning 61 in July and still eager to compete, Green has been unsuccessful in getting a special medical exemption to play the PGA Tour Champions, and few tournament sponsors have given him the call. After reading his new book, Hunter of Hope, you might wonder how Green is still out there punching. Much of the content is what fans might expect from him—colorful tales from his playing days on the PGA Tour and abroad, the Ryder Cup, his gambling forays, his run-in with Masters chairman Hord Hardin when Green contended at Augusta in 1989. There’s much we haven’t heard before. And there’s sharp opinion on issues that plague golf, then and now. But the most indelible sections are those in which he details his hardest struggles, some of which haunt him still. You’ll almost surely come away admiring Ken Green more, not merely for his accomplishments but that he has survived. —Guy Yocom
A harsh existence in a foreign land
The truth is, I wish I hadn’t let the nightmare that happened to me as a kid reappear in my brain. After it ended, I did a good job blocking it out. The plan from the beginning was to put it in the back and let it go, hoping it might one day disappear forever. That hasn’t happened, and I think the time has come for me to talk about that experience, to reveal the detail and pain of it in an effort to help others.
When I was 11 years old, my mom made the decision to move our family from Connecticut to Honduras. She thought relocating to a foreign country might help temper my dad’s drinking and save their marriage. Instead, the things that happened in my three years there were devastating. I’m no psychiatrist, but what I went through at least partly explains why I spiraled into serious depression as an adult and even tried to commit suicide. It probably accounts for why I always was rebellious toward authority and not good with relationships. To this day, I rarely look people in the eye. I don’t know of a direct plan of action people can take to prevent the same thing from happening—I made the decision to reveal this only six months ago and am just not that far along—but I think the first step is to increase awareness.
Our family moved to the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras and the largest city there. My dad took a job as principal of the American School there for kids K-12. We lived in a big house, but it wasn’t big enough. My brother, Billy, and his best friend from Connecticut shared one room. My younger sister, Shelley, had her own room. My dad’s best friend, a guy named Louie, occupied another room. I slept in a twin cot in the hallway, which didn’t bother me. I was 11, and who cares at that age? Also living with us was our maid, Kia, who became kind of a surrogate mother to me.
At some point that first year, I began waking up without my pajamas on. I had no clue how it happened. I just figured my PJs had a way of coming off each night. But one night I woke up, and there was Louie. It was very confusing, but Louie attempted to explain why he was touching me while I slept. He claimed that every parent chooses a good friend to help their child learn about sex and their bodies. But he said sex was a hush-hush subject and that we could never say anything to anyone. He’d been a close family friend forever, so I thought it was all fine. I mean, this was in 1969, and there was not much TV or media in Honduras. No Internet, obviously. I was a clueless little boy.
Days, weeks and months passed. We had what Louie called “love sessions,” and I thought them all completely normal. At the end of that first year, Billy’s friend graduated and moved away. We relocated to a different house. It also was large, but I still got stuck in the hall on a cot. Looking back, my sleeping in a common area—with no door to lock—was the one constant the first two years.
Alan P. Pittman
Threats after a rebellion
That second year, things got even worse. Roughly in the middle of the year, Louie brought a couple of his associates into the mix. My “lessons” now included two additional participants. I don’t recall my thoughts at the time, only that it was different and that I didn’t get it or like it. It became much more physical and way more perverted and ugly. Even as a 12-year-old, I knew the things they were doing were wrong. Louie was different, too. He would sit quietly as the other men ran the show.
The men didn’t always arrive together. The abuse was happening in new places, outside the house. It got even more physical and violent. I was scared, with no idea what to do about it. Why was this happening? Why was I getting hit and beaten when I was doing everything I was supposed to do?
There came a moment when I rebelled. I told them I was not going to do this anymore, and further, I was going to tell my dad. I was then beaten harder than ever before. When I stopped crying, I was told that if I ever said anything, they would kill my mother. I believed them 100 percent. When welts appeared, I lied to my mom about them. It’s hard to explain the seriousness of these men, the tone that made me go along with what they were doing.
At the end of the second year, my mom decided that the marriage to my dad was doomed and that she was going back to Connecticut with us kids. I had no idea that this decision had been made. One day shortly thereafter, after a particularly humiliating session with the abusers, the men told me my mom was leaving and that I was to tell her I wanted to stay in Honduras with my dad. They warned me that if I didn’t go along, they would kill my father. Again, I believed them. The fact my abusers knew of our family business and my mom’s decision to leave before I did reinforced my notion I should trust what they were saying.
Just before my mom left, she came to me and explained gently that it was time for us to go home. Dad was going to stay in Honduras with Louie. The look in her eyes when I told her, “I want to stay here,” is something I’ll never forget. It was a stunned, dull look that haunts me to this day. My answer clearly crushed her. She cried but said nothing for a long time, then said it was OK for me to stay, that she understood. I wanted to scream but said nothing. I just froze. She and my siblings left.
That third year, four of us—my dad, Louie, Kia the maid and me—lived at the top of a mountain near Tegucigalpa. The way there was via a single sharp-curved road that makes those scary roads in Italy look like five-lane Sacramento freeways. They were half-paved with drops of death at every turn. It increased the feeling of isolation.
Dad decided to give me the master bedroom, in seeming compensation for my two years in the hall. My room had its own porch, which would turn out to be more like an adjacent torture chamber. Without my mom there to kind of guard me—she knew nothing, but her presence kept the abusers a little in check—I was doomed. My dad’s drinking got worse. It seemed like the men were over all the time now, every other night on weekdays, and always over the weekend. I knew that when my dad passed out drunk, I was in deep trouble. I tried everything to keep him awake.
The episodes with the men got worse and even more ugly. At this point, mainly two of the men Louie had brought in were the main perpetrators. I was defenseless, a rag-doll sex toy. It was hardcore, violent and grotesque.
In truth, I was slowly dying. Kia used to come to my room when a bout was over and hold me while I cried and cried. You might ask, How could she not have known what was going on? She very well might have known a part of it, but you have to understand that this was Honduras, and it was 50 years ago. The politics, the policing, the power some people had to do horrible things and get away with them weren’t like anything we’re familiar with in the United States. For ordinary people like Kia, it was a daily fight for survival. I have no resentment toward her. She did her best to help and comfort me.
One day during that third year, I arrived at school a little late. As I approached the school, a teacher rushed up to me with a concerned look on her face. She shuffled me off to an empty room, as if to keep something from me. At some point, somebody had fliers printed up that said my dad, Louie and others were having orgies. I remember us kids being taken to an auditorium to discuss it. I wanted to scream but couldn’t do a thing. I have no idea if anything came of this.
I was now a shell of a person. I had been a very ordinary kid, outgoing and gregarious. I had excelled in all sports. Now I said nothing and did practically nothing except one thing: play golf. A course only half a mile from the house was my heaven and my haven. I would play literally all day long, lost in the game and the escape of it. All the while I knew the men back at our place were drinking and waiting for me, and that I was destined for a nightmare the moment I returned home.
It all came to an end on a particularly violent night when I was 13. It involved one of the two most wretched men Louie had brought in. This man and my dad had an all-time drunkfest, and it ended, as usual, with my dad passed out.
The porch off my room was lined with a rock wall and flower beds. On this evening, the man tied me down against the wall and shoved my face into the dirt. I was eating and choking on the dirt. I couldn’t breathe. I had long since begun dying on the inside, but now I felt I literally was going to die. Then he just left me there. I couldn’t move.
Kia eventually came to my rescue. She untied me and cleaned off my bloodied body. She took me to her room, and I just sat there as she patched me up. After a while, I left her room and went back to my porch to go to bed. I went into my room, and there he was: He was sleeping in my bed. My rapist was sleeping soundly in his victim’s little bed.
I went outside and picked up a good-size rock and brought it back to my room. And then I hit him with the rock as hard and for as long as I could muster the strength. I have no idea what I felt then, but I know what I feel remembering this now. Pain.
I ran to my father’s room and told him what had happened. He and Louie took over from there, and my dad swore me to secrecy. I don’t know what happened to that guy. They put me on the next plane back to the United States, and we never talked about it again. I do remember my dad telling me before I got on the plane, “Kid, I’m sorry. You did nothing wrong. Don’t ever tell anyone, ever.”
I’ve told no one else over the years. Until you.
My parents have both passed away, and I’m an old goat now. You’re probably wondering, how does a soul recover from so many dramatic events in one’s life? Damn, if they made a movie, you might think it complete bull: No way all of that can happen to one guy. Plus, he was one of the best golfers on earth.
I’m petrified I’m going to lose some friends after this book comes out. They’ll still be “friends,” but will they be scared about how they think and act around me? Will they be afraid to tell their dopey jokes, or will they just stroll away? Will they be the same? I hope most will, but it’s scary.
My plan has been simple: Use the adversity as my purpose and reason to live. Don’t let life’s tragedies win. But I will always have issues. When will I lose that demon of guilt that goes off in my head every time I talk about this story? Before, I’d thought I’d been some loser for not opening my mouth earlier. I get the sentiment: It’s not your fault; you did nothing wrong. But I promise you, most victims feel like idiots. When I decided to write my book of the good, bad and ugly, the #MeToo movement had not yet come to life. The stories about other awful souls were not in the news yet. I’m thinking those stories and others have played a role in my decision to reveal how ugly these things can get.
A therapist might tell me that it’s normal to have had this whacked-out Stockholm Syndrome feeling. I’m still wondering, What the hell is the matter with me? All I know is what I feel. As for the man in my bed, I don’t give a flying flip about him. He destroyed the me I was supposed to be.
As for trying to reduce the number of sexually abused kids in the world, I think it starts here. If I don’t detail my nightmare, how can I get anyone to change some of our weak state laws involving pedophilia?
I have to get beyond that experience, I really do. Because only then will I be able to help other victims. One kid at a time.
“I was told that if I ever said anything, they would kill my mother. . . . They warned me that if I didn’t go along, they would kill my father.”
HOW TO GET HELP
RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual-violence organization, estimates that every 92 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted, and every nine minutes, that victim is a child. RAINN (rainn.org) created and operates the free and confidential National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE; 800-656-4673) in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual-assault service providers across the country. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (childhelp.org) can provide local referrals for services. A centralized call center provides the caller with the option of talking with or texting a counselor. Callers can connect to a language line that provides service in 170 languages. The call or text hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). The hotline, staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by professional crisis counselors, has received more than two million calls since its inception in 1982.
BOOK ADAPTATION Adapted with permission from the new book, Hunter of Hope: A Life Lived Inside, Outside and On the Ropes. Copyright © 2019 by Ken Green, with Drew Nederpelt, 202 pages, $24.95. Published by Newberry Funding, LLC. Available at kengreengolf.com.