"I went home that night and told my wife, Betty, 'They made me mad today.' So I hunted up a mallet and practiced alone for two weeks. After I won the rematch, local folks didn't want to play me much anymore."
Soon that was the attitude of the rest of Kentucky, too. In the last 13 years Burchfield has won the state singles title seven times and finished second twice, and Kentucky is a state so uncommonly competitive in croquet that no doubles team has won back-to-back state titles in the last 25 years. In fact, the game—Kentuckians play a version that's closer to lawn than championship croquet—is so popular there that it's not even considered a rich folks' sport. "I can win the national title easier than I can win the state," Archie says. "A Kentucky game is almost like war."
At the Nationals, Burchfield proved he can compete on any level, despite adversity. His regular doubles partner of 1'2 years was away on business, so Burchfield drafted Mark, a novice "but a pretty good athlete," by his dad's description. Says Peck, "Archie would say, 'Come on down here, boy, and hit this ball over there.' Mark didn't know much about the rules, but he sure could shoot the eyes out of the ball at 80 feet."
These days, croquet club doors that once slammed shut now open gracefully to the Burchfields, and Archie can laugh when he remembers the time that the upper crust tried to make him feel like a crumb. "I tried to get into the restaurant of this club in Palm Beach," he says. "I was wearing a brand-new pair of khaki britches and a $20 Levi's shirt. I can't dress no better than that. But they told me I couldn't come in because I wasn't wearing whites. I pleaded and pleaded. Finally, they let me come in the back way. But as soon as I got inside, a woman said, 'Even though you're in, they're just going to throw you out.' They didn't. But it took them 45 minutes to serve me."
Peck believes, as do many of his contemporaries, that croquet is in desperate need of personalities like the Burchfields. "Archie is the greatest thing that has ever happened to this sport," says Peck. "The social stigma, that black tie and sneakers image, was getting oppressive, and it hurt the game. Croquet is a sport. It's meant to be played by everyone. I'll play with Archie anyplace, at any time."
Peck will get his chance this weekend when the U.S. National Team, of which both Peck and Archie Burchfield are members, challenges Canada and Bermuda in a three-team competition at the Palm Beach Polo and Country Club. "They think they can beat us," says Burchfield. "I don't believe anyone can do that. They just don't know how good we are. Or, for that matter, just who we are."