George William Archer
George Archer’s record as a golfer ranks him as one of the most successful of all golfers of the second half of the twentieth century. Born in San Francisco on October 1, 1939, George competed at the highest levels of his sport over five different decades. His 1969 Masters win, his eleven other PGA Tour wins and his PGA National Team Championship with Bobby Nichols came at a time when his tour competitors were giants like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino. Yet his outstanding PGA career had bookend careers of its own with an outstanding amateur record and a superb Senior PGA Tour record that included 19 wins plus the 1994 Chrysler Cup. George was Champions Tour Player of the Year in 1991 along with Mike Hill and the tour’s Comeback Player of the Year in 1997.
George attended San Mateo High School in San Mateo, California, but as his wife Donna has recently revealed, he suffered from a severe learning disability his entire life. With his educational options limited, in hindsight, it isn’t hard to imagine golf being a way up the ladder of success for George.
In today’s age of super agents, sports psychologists and swing gurus, George Archer learned golf by caddying at the Peninsula Golf and Country Club in San Mateo, playing at the local muni and putting for quarters on the practice green at Lincoln Park in San Francisco. This was old school – the way that players like Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson became great – digging it out of the dirt. Known world-wide as one of the best putters on tour, George always attributed his success to putting for quarters on slow, bumpy municipal greens hour after hour. At one time he held the PGA record for fewest putts over four rounds with 95 putts at the 1980 Sea Pines Heritage Classic.
His success as an amateur golfer from the Bay Area brought him local fame in 1963. He was following in the great tradition of San Francisco legends Ken Venturi, E. Harvie Ward and Tony Lema when George dominated the 1963 season by winning the Trans Mississippi, the Northern California Open and the San Francisco City Championship as well as other tournaments. Turning professional, his first win was the 1965 Lucky Invitational at San Francisco’s Harding Park. Though hampered by injuries throughout his career (surgery on his left wrist in 1975, his back in 1979, his left shoulder in 1987 and a hip replacement in 1996), he persevered and became the first man to win on the Senior PGA Tour (now the Champions Tour) after having a hip replacement. By the end of his career George had brought an extraordinary level of distinction to Northern California golf. He won more professional tournaments, including 8 Super Senior events, than any Bay Area professional golfer and is still the only San Franciscan to win the Masters.
Despite the nomadic life of a professional golfer, George maintained strong ties to his native Northern California. His home was a small ranch in Gilroy, California near his friend and ultimate sponsor Gene Selvage. In fact, his tour nickname, the “Golfing Cowboy,” came from his boyhood work on the Selvage ranch. Throughout his career George was known for lack of celebrity airs. At the time his illness forced his retirement, he could have been played one more tournament – just enough to be one of only eight players to play 1,000 events on the PGA and Champions tours. But, true to his nature, his wife Donna said, “George opted not to play one more because he thought 999 was so cool.” George even shagged his own balls when he practiced.
George Archer passed away in 2005 leaving an exceptional legacy as a golfer and a person, a legacy that his wife Donna carries on through the contributions to education by the George Archer Memorial Foundation for Literacy.