George Archer has begun to believe his own publicity. The towering Californian has been described as the most promising rookie golfer on this year's pro tour, but that is not the part that George has begun to believe. It's the part about his being a cowboy.
"If the golf doesn't work out," he decided the other day, biting down on an imaginary toothpick, "I can always go back to punching cows."
Now, this tends to give the impression that Archer has ridden his share of salt-grass trails. This is not quite so. He has been a professional golfer since January and was a ranch hand for just eight months before that. Still, it is a rather entertaining combination, something on the order of a milkman turning sports car racer. And naturally it fascinates sportswriters.
Few outside of California knew much about Archer until last September, when he reached the semifinals of the national amateur tournament at Des Moines. There a reporter routinely asked him what he did for a living.
April 13, 1964
"I work on a ranch in Gilroy, Calif.," he answered.
"You mean, you're a cowboy?"
"Yup," said George, or words to that effect.
In the days that followed his friends in San Francisco were slightly amazed, and amused to read about George Archer, the Gilroy Rancher, the California Cowpoke, the Gilroy Plowboy.
His extreme height (6 feet 6 inches) and a legend he did not solicit have combined to make him easily the best known of this year's crop of fine young golfers.
George would, of course, stand tall in the saddle, except that his duties at the Lucky Hereford Ranch do not include horseback riding, "It's a breeding ranch," he explains. "Mostly we just move cattle from pen to pen. I painted fences—we have 5,000 acres of white wooden fences—sprayed for flies, emptied the water trough and cleaned out the stables. I mean, I worked at it. I didn't start at the top."
Gilroy, a lovely little town with gently rolling hills, is in the cattle-and-onion belt below San Francisco. Archer joined the local cowboy population at the invitation of Eugene Selvage, who owns the ranch and who now sponsors him on the tour. Selvage is one of San Francisco's foremost golf patrons, a former president and board chairman of the Lucky Lager Brewing Company and one of the founders of the Lucky International tournament.
A comic air
The job enabled Archer to support himself and his expectant young wife while he refined his golf game for a charge at the pros. "There's a nine-hole course right next to the ranch," he says, "just over the hill. I'd get through with my chores around 2 or 3 and go over and play it through twice. I finally got my score down to 63. It's a cute little course."
Archer has a high voice and a pleasant, detached manner. But at 24, he is still somewhat gawky and unschooled, with a slightly comic air about him.
He has several habits that others might consider strange. He carries planks around in the back of his '64 Catalina station wagon, to place under his mattress at night on the road. He simply cannot abide a soft bed. Sometimes he reinforces the boards with scrapbooks and photo albums.
To keep his strength up he guzzles two quarts of milk a day, has steak and beans every night of a tournament and is addicted to health foods. "His middle name is William," says his wife, Donna, "and my folks call him Wee Willie Wheat Germ. He doesn't drink or smoke—it's bad for his golf—and he's a great one for going to bed at 8 o'clock during a tournament."
Doc Giffin, the press chief for the PGA, cannot recall a better class of rookies than the current one, which includes Archer, Chuck Courtney, Dick Crawford, Charles Coody and Dudley Wysong. Archer, says Giffin, looks like the pick of the litter.
George finished in the money in four of his first seven tournaments. He placed fourth at San Diego and ran his money earnings up to $3,362. At that rate, he will be playing golf long after the cows come home.
Up to now only one serious flaw has been exposed in Archer's game, and it may be mostly mental. He tends to play raggedly when the wind blows hard, and he blames it on his beanpole frame. "I hook everything I hit," he says, "and when the weather is bad the wind gets me in trouble. Also, I can't putt as well. I seem to sway."
The wind blew at better than 20 mph in New Orleans, and Archer shot a 75-79 and failed to make the cut. Yet the wind was just as blustery at Tucson when George shot a first-round 68, and he laughed it off. Surprisingly, Archer's strength is his short game. You look at his height and expect him to murder the ball. Instead he displays a fine, delicate touch on the greens.
George was born in San Francisco, a spawning ground for such golfers as Harvie Ward, Bob Rosburg and Ken Venturi. At 10 he caddied for Harvie and a local pro named Bud Ward (no relation) at the Peninsula Golf and Country Club in San Mateo. From then on golf was all Archer thought about except for Donna Garman, a 5-foot-2 young woman with reddish-brown hair. Her father, Don Garman, though himself a good club golfer, did not quite approve of George's indifference to steady work.
"In those days I'd work six months, save my money and then play golf for six months. Mr. Garman said he didn't like the idea of his daughter marrying a golf bum. He said I needed to have some responsibility. So I got a job as a gardener at the Richmond Golf and Country Club."
Not long after the marriage, with Army service apparently beckoning, George quit his job. He would turn pro, but first he would spend his remaining civilian days improving his game and rounding it off. Donna agreed and offered to find a job. "She worked as a bookkeeper for a year to support us," he says.
Some time after George came out of the Army, Donna became pregnant with Elizabeth, now 5 months old and on her first pro tour. At this point Eugene Selvage entered the picture, and George became the Golfing Cowboy.