Hip, Hip, Hooray for Archer!
by Greg Johnson
Sometimes after a bad round, or maybe when the travel gets to him, George Archer will threaten to retire from the Senior PGA Tour.
Donna, his wife will then ask him a few questions.
"What are you going to do if you retire?" That's the question that comes first.
I'll play a little golf, fish, hunt, see the grandkids," the 59-year two-time winner in Grand Rapids will answer.
Then comes the second question: "What do you do now?"
Archer laughs, and admits he is not ready to retire just yet. Winning last August in Grand Rapids rejuvenated him, and convinced him he still had some competitive golf to play despite seven bouts with surgery including a 1996 hip replacement.
"Winning for the first time after the hip was a big thing because I could hear the clock ticking," he says. "I've quit thinking about retiring so much. I'll stick with this for a while."
Archer, an 18-time winner on the Senior Tour, will defend his latest Grand Rapids title in the Foremost Insurance Championship Aug. 9-15 at Egypt Valley Country Club.
The tall, slender former Masters champion shot a record 16-under-par 199 at The Highlands in 1993 to get in a playoff and win what was then called the First of America Classic. It set a scoring record for the annual Senior Tour visit to Grand Rapids.
Then last summer, he shot 199 again, only it was 17-under-par at Egypt Valley, a considerably more difficult golf course. He won by five shots, earning his first Senior Tour win since 1995, and among 18 total since he came on the tour in 1989 and won his first Senior event. The $150,000 first-place check was the biggest of his career, and he says, the smile afterward might have been the biggest of his career.
"It was a thrill to win again," he says. "I thought my clock had run out. Plus, the hip. I think people thought I couldn't do it again after the hip. Maybe even I thought that."
The Incline Village, Nev., resident and native of California went over the $6 million mark in Senior Tour earnings with the win in Grand Rapids. He earned $1.8 million with 12 wins in his regular PGA Tour days.
He's considered one of the game's finest putters, thouugh he claims no secret formula.
"It's just practice," he says. "Learn the fundamentals, learn to read a putt and then just get on the practice green for as long as you can stand it. Then do it again the next day, and the next."
His success in golf is tied directly to the time he spends playing and practicing, he says.
"If I take a few weeks off, then I have to get back to work and practice and play before I can do anything. It's always that way. The more I play, the better chance I have. I'm not one of those guys who can just show up and shoot 60-something."
He shot 64 to close at Egypt Valley in his win, and he felt it could have been even better.
"I actually missed a couple of putts early in the round," he says. "Then the putter got hot."
The 64 was hot enough to catch Bruce Summerhays, the 36-hole leader over Archer by two shots. It was also the best round of the day by four shots, and the best round of the tournament.
"Bruce and I could have used our best ball and we wouldn't have beat him," quipped Jim Dent, who finished second with a 204. "Archer has all those new parts in him. He played like the flatbellies."
Archer was the first to win with an artificial hip, and he says Jack Nicklaus, who had hip-replacement surgery earlier this year, changed his tune for the same reason he decided to get a new hip _ pain.
"I remember playing in The Tradition back in '95 with Jack, and we talked about my hip," he says. "I told him I was thinking about a hip replacement. He told me I didn't need a hip replacement, just exercise. It's kind of funny now that I think about it."
Archer went for the titanium hip. Nicklaus opted for a ceramic model.
"That's the last surgery," Archer says, counting off his meetings with a knife for back, wrist and shoulder troubles. "If I go down again, I stay down."
Of course, this is the same guy who threatens to retire to fishing.
"The parts are working fine right now," he says. "I don't practice as much as I should, but when I play for a while I can still compete."
Archer is looking at a few more years of competition, and thinks the money in the Super Seniors competition for those over 60 will be an attraction.
"I just down know if I want to do it that long," he says. "I've looked at this Senior Tour. You have a window from age 50 to 55 where you need to do it, because there is a big swing in your game from 50 to 55, and a really big swing from 50 to 60."
Archer's philosophy on golf is that it should be enjoyed, not endured. That's why he wants to stay pain free, why he wants to be in the hunt and why fishing sometimes seems like such a good idea.
"It's been terrific, but the minute it isn't, I'll be gone fishing," he says. "Besides, I'm getting old and can't remember things. People come up to me and tell me these great stories, and they are all about me. I have to admit, I don't remember them."
The father of two daughters remembers Grand Rapids, though. That memory keeps him plugging away at the game, on the practice green working that magic stroke and excited about defending a championship in a town where he has won twice.
"Grand Rapids has become one of my favorite places," he says. "Winning will do that for you. You remember the wins."
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