Making most of experience


George Archer spends much of his time away from the Senior PGA Tour fishing for trout near his home in Lake Tahoe, Nev. A year ago, Archer and his brother took their now-91-year-old father out with them.

"It was cute, my dad caught five, I caught one and my brother caught three," recalled Archer. "My dad said, 'Well, I guess I out-fished the boys.' "

That's how Archer, 60, feels when he outplays those younger than him on the Senior Tour. It happened in the tour's opening tournament this year, the MasterCard Championship, where Archer won his 19th senior title.

It set the tone for a season in which another 60-year-old, Lee Trevino, added to the tour's all-time record with his 29th victory and legendary South African Gary Player shot his age - 64 - in a tournament last month.

"It's like riding a bicycle," Trevino said yesterday. "We're not going to forget what we know how to do. ... I think I'm going to win some more, but we have to be on the right type of track."

Could it happen this week, when Trevino and Player are the two headliners in the field for the third State Farm Senior Classic? The $1.35 million tournament is scheduled to begin today at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club in Columbia.

"It's an old course, and that's the kind of course we love to play," said Trevino. "We're not much on the new ones; they're longer and more difficult for us. We love these little ones. This course suits me just fine. I should do quite well."

But Trevino concedes the Senior Tour still favors the players whose 50th birthday is not a distant memory. While leading money-winner Hale Irwin is a 55-year-old exception, the tour is still ruled by players like Bruce Fleisher, 51.

The celebrated rookie class of 2000, led by Tom Watson and Tom Kite, has not made as big an impact as expected, leaving room for players such as Archer, Trevino and Player to have a little more time in the spotlight.

"Golf is so different than other sports," said Player, whose last victory came two years ago, a month before he turned 63. "You look at Michael Jordan, an incredible athlete, having to retire at 36 and here we are winning golf tournaments at 63.

"Golf is a very, very special sport. The longevity of golf is a very significant thing, isn't it? That's why a man like Sam Snead was such a great golfer in my eyes because he lasted so long."

So has Player, who won his last PGA Tour major at the Masters at 43 and became the youngest man to shoot his age in tournament competition with an opening-round 64 last month at the BellSouth Classic.

"And I bogeyed the shortest hole on the golf course," said Player, who held the lead after two rounds but wound up tied for 16th.

Age is not the only factor with those 60 and over.

Player spends as much time designing courses all over the world, including recently in Poland and mainland China, as he does playing tournaments. Trevino is busy getting his 12-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son ready for summer camp. Archer loves to fish and hunt as much as play golf.

Archer came close to retiring two years ago after taking a two-week vacation to Germany. Having undergone hip replacement surgery in 1995, Archer figured that he might have played enough competitive golf.

"I said, 'Why not enjoy my retirement now that I'm at age where I can?' " Archer recalled. "I worked for this all my life. But then I started playing good and as my wife said, 'You enjoy playing golf. Do it until you can't do it no more.' "

Going into the season's first tournament, Archer had played just three rounds near his winter home in Indian Wells, Calif. He won by two shots over a group of four players that included Trevino and Irwin.

"That was really a surprise," said Archer, whose 35-year, 18-win PGA Tour career highlight came when he won the 1969 Masters. "I won that tournament 10 years apart. I might be the only guy who's ever done that. I can start a club of my own here.

"There have been 10 players who were 60 or older when they won on the Senior Tour, the oldest being Mike Fetchick. His victory in the 1985 Hilton Head Seniors Invitational came on his 63rd birthday. The average age for a tournament winner this year is 53 1/2 , giving hope to those who believe that the window closes at 55.

It's not just what Irwin has done, most recently by setting a scoring record for a U.S. Open with his 17-under par performance last week in the Senior Open at Saucon Valley. It's also what those past 55 have done, including Tom Wargo, who at 57 won for the first time in five years at a tournament in February.

Jay Sigel, who will turn 57 later this year, is watching. Sigel, a longtime amateur champion who didn't turn pro until he became eligible for the Senior Tour in 1994, has won six timess, most recently in 1998. But he has struggled with his game this season and comes into this week ranked 50th on the money list.

"I think what they've done speaks volumes for the game itself," said Sigel. "That's the best part of the Senior Tour, when they win at that age or go out and shoot their age. That's the best."

It's no big deal to Archer since he tries not to act his age.

"Young is a relative term," he said. "Old is a relative term. What is old and what is young? I went fishing last week with my father. He's 91 1/2 and we went out for 11 hours, and the old guy did as good as me. I've got to change old."

Or just catch more fish.

State Farm Senior Classic

Schedule: Today-Sunday

Site: Hobbit's Glen Golf Club (6,983 yards, par 72), Columbia

Purse: $1.35 million

Winner's share: $202,500

TV: ESPN (Today, 2-4 p.m.; tomorrow-Sunday, 5:30-7 p.m.)

Defending champion: Christy O'Connor

Tickets: 410-964-0900

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