In 1995, Larry Ringer, the longtime club professional at the Country Club of Woodmore in Mitchellville and former Naval Academy golf coach, held the first-round lead in the U.S. Senior Open along with veteran Senior PGA Tour regular J.C. Snead.

Ringer's stay atop the leader board that year was short-lived. He followed his 4-under-par 68 on Thursday with an 8-over-par 80 on Friday. Although he came back to shoot an impressive 69 on Saturday, he was never in contention for the lead again and finished 21st.

Since his remarkable run at Bethesda's Congressional Country Club in 1995, Ringer, 54, has been back to the U.S. Senior Open only once, in 1996. This week, he returns to the U.S. Senior Open along with 149 of the world's top golfers age 50 and over to compete for the title at Des Moines Golf & Country Club in West Des Moines, Iowa. The first round of the 72-hole event begins Thursday.

"I'm not so far removed from reality as to expect to go out there and get a lead and keep a lead and win this thing," Ringer said. "Things have to be clicking for me. I have to have everything going my way to have a chance."

After his impressive showing at the 1995 U.S. Senior Open, it looked as though Ringer--a two-time Maryland Open champion and a consistent winner in the Middle Atlantic PGA section for several years--had a chance to realize his dream of playing regularly on the Senior PGA Tour. He may well have done so had it not been for his seemingly endless run of back and hip troubles.

Ringer has been plagued with back problems most of his adult life. The pain from his degenerative spinal condition was so severe in the early '90s that it forced him out of competitive golf. Then, he met Keith Scott, a Severna Park chiropractor, who has treated him for the past six years.

"He's the only reason I'm playing golf today," said Ringer, who goes to Scott for treatment every other day when he is in pain and once a week when he is not.

With Scott's help, Ringer was able to manage his back pain. But just when his back pain came under control, a bone in his hip died and had to be replaced in March 1997. Rehabilitation took longer than expected and he slowly returned to competitive golf.

At the U.S. Senior Open qualifier last July--his first attempt at walking 18 holes since the surgery--Ringer played well enough to become the first alternate. He won the Middle Atlantic PGA seniors championship and was one shot off the lead going into the final round of the Maryland Open last year.

With his hip healed and his back pain-free the past two years, Ringer eagerly anticipated qualifying for this year's U.S. Senior Open. He dropped 13 pounds and was playing some of his best golf in years.

Then, during the 18-hole sectional qualifier on June 21, Ringer bent down to pick up his tee on No. 4 and felt a pop in his back. Despite the excruciating pain that stayed with him the remainder of the round, he shot a 4-under-par 68 to earn medalist honors.

"The funny thing was all during the time my hip was healing, I didn't have any back problems," Ringer said. "Now my hip is great and the back is the problem."

Since the qualifier, Ringer's only round of golf was on June 28 at the MAPGA Henry Griffitts Head Pro championship where he won the senior division of the 27-hole tournament. His back pain and club duties have kept him from playing any practice rounds to prepare for the Open. In between his chiropractic treatments, he has run a one-day women's member-guest tournament, a three-day men's member-guest tournament and a nine-hole women's member-guest tournament. He has also spent time driving back and forth to Hagerstown to visit his mother, who suffered her second stroke on June 24.

Those distractions have not prevented Ringer from having a good feeling about this year's U.S. Senior Open.

"I'm probably less apprehensive about this year," Ringer said. "I think I probably may have more confidence this year than before. . . . Despite not having a chance to play or practice right now, I feel confident, not overconfident, not cocky. Let's say, I'm comfortable."

CAPTION: Larry Ringer will compete in U.S. Senior Open for the first time since 1996. The 54-year-old club professional at the Country Club of Woodmore has played through back pain and a hip injury.

CAPTION: Ringer has not had much opportunity to work on his game lately, but feels "confident" about his chances of playing well at the U.S. Senior Open.