SENIOR CLASSIC AT MESA VERDE : Victory Helps to Dull Archer's Pain

The night before he became champion of the 1995 Toshiba Senior Classic, George Archer nearly retired.

"We talked about it all night," Archer's wife, Donna, said Sunday. "He's been going through hell this year, utter hell. He hasn't talked about it much. It has to be a dreadful thing, facing the end of a career after doing something you've loved for 30-plus years.

"But last night, we finally talked."

Mostly, they discussed George's right hip, which has been deteriorating steadily for the past 18 months--to the point now where he can't tee up without first loading up on a pain-killer called Indocin.

"It's been awful," Donna Archer said. "He won the Chrysler Cup last year, which is an unofficial tournament, so you can't say he hasn't won anything. But that's all he's won. This has probably been the worst year he's ever had. I told him, 'We're right back where were with all the injuries during the mid-'70s.' "

But those injuries--as George puts it, "You could always patch those up." So he had wrist surgery in 1975 and back surgery in 1978 and knee surgery in 1979 and kept coming back and hacking and making quite a comfortable living.

This, however, was no way to live. When a golfer's hip begins to go, career options become severely restricted. You either have the hip replaced--a serious operation doctors advised Archer to delay until "you're crying day and night"--or keep popping the Indocin and dealing with the occasional side effects.

Such as sudden fits of jumpiness while you're lining up over a money putt 12 feet south of the 18th pin.

"We realized last night," Donna said, "he can't play like this. He can't complete a swing. His putting's been atrocious.

"We decided, 'OK, we can adapt to this.' George has been fortunate enough to win some money during his career and we've been thrifty. If he stopped playing, we could get by. We've been good in that regard.

"What I tried to ask him to do is complete his 20-tournament commitment this year. Just do that and fulfill his contract. I told him, 'Just try to hit each shot the best you can and not expect anything. Just enjoy the moment whenever you happen to hit a good one. Just get through the 20 tournaments and we can go fishing for the rest of our lives.' "

One more thing brought Archer back to Mesa Verde Country Club Sunday morning.

After hobbling through 36 holes, Archer was three strokes off the lead. If he could grin and bear it for one more day, who could know what might happen? With $120,000 going to the winner and $70,400 to the runner-up, Archer had enough reasons to drag his hip around 18 more holes.

After nine, he had pulled even with Saturday's leader, Tom Wargo, and Dave Stockton at seven-under.

From there, he birdied the 10th . . . and the 12th . . . and the 15th . . . and, incredibly, the 17th with a 21-foot putt that launched Archer and his hip into a delirious cap-wagging jig.

For a few precious seconds, the two of them were feeling no pain.

"That was really a thrill, seeing that thing running right to the middle of the hole," Archer said. "The biggest thing that's been killing me has been my putting. (Saturday) was just a thriller. I'd get over the ball, start looking at things around me, look over here, look at that.

"Today, I just tried to concentrate."

Archer's putt on the 17th had him concentrating on the championship. That birdie moved him 11-under, one stroke ahead of Stockton, and when Stockton's drive off the 18th landed in the trees, Archer needed only to play for par on the final hole.

A deep, straight drive and a delicate approach shot that touched down 15 feet from the hole made the rest academic. On his back, Archer can two-putt from 15 feet. Thankfully, such a maneuver was not required. Archer's hip held up and he went into the winner's tent standing up.

"You're thinking about retiring and then you have a day like that. What are you going to do?" Archer beamed as he slowly settled into a plushly padded chair.

Days like this--there is no better medicine, Archer said.

"I recently played a round in the desert with a doctor friend of mine," Archer said. "He knew I was on the drug, so he told me beforehand, 'Don't take it this time. Let's see what happens.'

"So I didn't and after three holes, I couldn't move my leg. My doctor friend looked at me and said, 'You're that bad?' 'Yes, I'm that bad.' He told me, 'Go back on the pills.'

"But, if you love to play, you'll take the drug. It's still fun to see your name go up there on the (leader) board and then you see Stockton's name go up there. It's really fun getting in a horse race like that."

Just so long as they don't shoot either of the horses.

"I've got a greedy wife. She likes the money," Archer joked as he winked at Donna, who was standing in the back of the interview room.

"No, she's not greedy. She knows this is my life. When it's over, it's over. You want to play as long as you can stand it."

Or as long as you can stand.

Sunday, George Archer's hip got him to sundown.

Long enough.

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