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Osborn does it again
in 30th Annual
Palm Beach Invitational

by John Osborn
Posted February 01, 1998


By now, it should be no surprise to anyone. Osborn has now won singles in the Palm Beach Croquet Club Invitational seven times, and his win in the most recent edition (January 12-18, 1998) was his sixth straight. This is the oldest "serious" American croquet tournament in America, predating the founding of the USCA by almost a decade. Always a strong tournament, it has a special significance in 1998: the results are the first to go into the new USCA Grand Prix game, and again as usual, John Osborn is off to a good lead as 1998's winningest American Rules croquet star.
Resolutions are made to be broken. You promise never to miss that two-foot wicket, to treat your mallet with more respect, and when you curse your partner under your breath to really pay attention to that "under the breath" aspect. These may not be YOUR resolutions, but I am sure they can be claimed by some. The common belief is that the only promise not broken during the Palm Beach Invitational was that offered by the club itself - of great weather, wonderful social events, and very exciting croquet. Not great, but exciting.

At Sunday's opening party, while President Libby Newell was ringing in the first tournament of the year with warm wishes, Tournament Director Ted Prentis was playing with his blocks. And they were everywhere. Depending upon in which of the four flights you fell, the blocks he offered were crossed, or standard, or modified. Some blocks led to other blocks while others led to heartache and plate play. As all of the blocks came tumbling down around them, a few players actually found themselves in a single elimination ladder, and some of those, with beautiful trophies.

In the meantime, Assistant Directors Bob Kroeger, Archie Peck and John Osborn pointed players toward The Breakers, the Beach Club, Palm Beach Polo & Country Club or PGA National. All in all, everyone managed to find his or her way to one of the eleven lawns, and if it all sounds confusing, it wasn't. In fact, the entire event went with great precision and received wonderful reviews.

No stake-outs on first day of Championship Doubles

Having been privy only to play of the Championship Flight, I apologize to others by saying that play was, as earlier inferred, not at its best on the first day. Championship doubles, contested Monday and Thursday, consisted of one large block of ten teams, each team playing six of the others. By Monday night, fifteen matches had been played, and of those fifteen, a total of (this is not an error) zero games finished before the 80-minute time. On the good side, two winning teams did actually break twenty points, and realizing that since neither the beautiful lawns at Polo nor the double-banking seemed like a fair target to blame, all players voted only to hope that no one would notice the scores.

Leading the field with 3-0 records after the first day of doubles were D. Grimsley/B. Bessette, B. Kroeger/M.. Zuro and R. Thomas/D. Dribben.

Phaneuf alone undefeated in Championship Singles blocks

Tuesday and Wednesday saw Singles play and new hope. The Championship Flight consisted of 19 players and, on paper, was quite impressive. The cut-off for the division was a handicap of 1.5, and though Digby Bridges, a 2-handicapper, was needed to fill in the slots, Mr. Bridges (3-3) did make it past the initial stages. Twelve players competed in one cross-block, while the remaining seven squared off against one another. The top twelve finishers in the flight would meet in three blocks of four, with the top six there moving to single elimination.

Impressive play came from John Phaneuf, going 6-0 in initial block play. Following closely behind with 5-1 records were Palm Beach first-timer Doug Grimsley (loss to Phaneuf 6-19), John Osborn (loss to Grimsley 20-22) and Bob Kroeger (loss to Bob Yount 13-17). Notable players who failed to play past Wednesday were globe-trotting USCA President Dan Mahoney (1-5) and another Palm Beach newcomer, the mysterious Rebo (1-5), who, due to some work obligations, was forced to play most of his matches in virtually no time. Action, as a whole, improved, but those New Year's Eve hangovers still kept the matches finished in time to only about 20 percent. Most notable match of block play: a Rhys Thomas 9-8 victory over Bob Cherry.

Kroeger/Zuro and Grimsley/Bessette last survivors in doubles

On Thursday, Doubles block play was completed (with 1of 60 matches finishing before time). While the team match-ups were quite equal, those who had done moderately well Monday now coasted, for of the five teams with losing records going into the day, only the team of J. Osborn/D. Bridges (3-3) would win three of four to sneak into single elimination. Tournament favorites D. Grimsley/B. Bessette (4-2) and, in a bit of a surprise, B. Kroeger/M. Zuro (4-2) received the two byes awarded to the six teams making it to the single elimination playoffs. Come Saturday, these byes would prove useful.

B. Thomas/D. Dribben (4-2), having eked past Osborn/Bridges, would fall to Grimsley/Bessette while F. Jones/D. Mayer (3-3) surprised the Rebo/B. Cherry (4-2) team only to fall to the solid play of Kroeger/Zuro, thus setting up Sunday's finals.

The twelve are reduced to two: Osborn and Cherry

With only twelve players remaining in Friday's Singles block play, the erratic play seen throughout the week was certain to create some interesting matches and situations. In Block One, John Phaneuf continued to improve on his undefeated record with wins over Digby Bridges (19-10) and Byron Thomas (22-17), only to confuse even himself with a loss to Neil "Pretty Legs" Houghton (11-26), thereby giving Houghton (3-0) one of the coveted byes available in the single elimination of six.

Despite a classic 26-2 victory over Doug Grimsley, Block Two turned into a road block for Bob Kroeger, where his undefeated streak in singles was halted with narrow 1-point losses to Dick Brackett (14-15) and Fred Jones (18-19). Grimsley and Jones would find two wild card spots with 2-1 records.

In Block Three, Bob Cherry breezed by Osborn (17-13), Rhys Thomas (11-10) and Charlie Evans (26-5) to grab the other bye. The most intriguing moment of the Block occurred in the Osborn-Thomas match. An "argument" began soon after Osborn, forgetting to return a ball to it's proper position after hitting a dead ball, foolishly claimed that the improper new position had been condoned after Thomas' quickly played shot. As the players tried, quite verbally, to come to an understanding, a blood-thirsty crowd developed, weighing the size, speed and mallet weights of the two combatants. Bob Kroeger eventually regained calm, the disappointed crowd dispersed and Osborn (26-3) picked up the final wild card with a 2-1 record.

(The worst fight of the week actually occurred that night, when brave Sir Bingham -"Bingo"-, significant dog of the Osborn/Summers kingdom, was viciously mauled by a neighborhood canine with, as opposed to Rhys Thomas, more bite than bark. The croquet world was shocked by the incident, and an Osborn/Summers spokesperson thanked all for their kind wishes and support. After a week in the hospital and a slew of stitches, Bingo is now recovering at home.)

While it appeared as though Grimsley and Osborn were well positioned to meet each other in the finals, a few matches were still to be played in Saturday's single elimination ladder. Grimsley was to start off against Fred "the giant killer" Jones while Osborn had, supposedly, a tougher wild card match against Phaneuf. Let it be known now that Doug Grimsley does not want his game to be discussed. He doesn't want it talked about, thought about, or even mentioned. (He's killed people for less, we think.) That aside: while Grimsley was doing everything wrong and acquiring more deadness than thought possible, Jones kept enough of his head to survive the match with both smile and body.

The Osborn - Phaneuf match, double banked upon the same lawn, proved to be a better one technically, but less so in terms of pure drama. Phaneuf, who had won his first eight singles matches, would lose his last two, this one included. Unlike Grimsley, Phaneuf is always happy to talk about, well, anything.

While the two long-shots, "Giant Killer" Jones and "Pretty Legs" Houghton, put up a good show, Bob Cherry and John Osborn proved to be too much for each of them respectively, thus setting up an Osborn - Cherry final. Congratulations should be offered to both Fred and Neil for an impressive, handicap lowering, great finish! Neil's 3rd place victory over Fred was certainly one of his best results ever!

Finals Day at the Breakers

The week had been full of social events. The opening party at Club Colette offered, seriously, both a wonderful dinner and great atmosphere! Pat Supper's cocktail party was a huge success. Dan and Susanne Mahoney opened up their new house for both a fun and festive participant's dinner. And yet it is always Sunday's Finals Luncheon at the Breakers Hotel which truly gives all players a chance to swap war stories, plan the future, laugh, perhaps pick up a trophy, and, this year, check on Bingo's status.

Grimsley/Bessette win wild and crazy doubles final

But before the winning players had a chance to pick up their beautiful and rare Verdite carved stone trophies (reputable witch doctors believe the stone increases fertility), both the doubles and singles final matches were to be played. They would be complete contrasts in approach.

The Doubles Final pitted the wild and crazy Butch Bessette and Doug "I don't want to talk about that game!" Grimsley against the even-tempered duo of Bob Kroeger and Mike Zuro.

Despite the fact that this was the first time some of these players had ever competed upon the small but fast and tricky Breakers lawns, the game was anything but conservative or dull. Zuro began play immediately with a nice hit-in but regrouped after wicket three. Attacks and breaks were exchanged back and forth without much advancement until a Zuro mistake got Grimsley a break to rover. Unable to promote Bessette, and after a bad position play by Bessette, Zuro attempted a rout to Bessette's ball. Unfortunately, the rout was less than brilliant, leaving Kroeger a difficult attempt on a dangerous boundary. When the shot dive-tailed, Bessette was left with the finishing break, a 26-8 Grimsley/Bessette victory and the Supper Cup!

One millimeter or another, the game's non-stop action was a delight to the crowd. Byron Thomas and Dana Dribben defeated Fred Jones and Dwight Mayer for third place.

Cherry works hard, but Osborn rakes in the trophy

The Osborn-Cherry Singles Final proved interesting for numerous reasons. Bob Cherry had beaten Osborn in Friday's Block play (17-13). In fact, he was making a habit of beating Osborn, and he was playing well. Still, Cherry was not familiar with the lawn, and, perhaps, unaccustomed to the large crowd hovering just inches from the boundary lines. Osborn, on the other hand, was looking for his sixth straight title in this event, knew the lawns well, but was still shaken by the terrible Bingo attack. All the spectators expected a match as equally action-packed as the doubles.

The match was anything but. After some chaos at the first wicket, Osborn grabbed a wicket here and there. As it turned out, Cherry was the aggressive player once all balls were in play, trying croquet outs and showing great touch as he hit boundary opponent balls from great distances. As it turned out, five brilliant moments of great shooting left Cherry with only five wickets and deadness from which he would not recover.

Surprisingly, Osborn did anything but jump at the opportunity. Instead, he seemed content to make one wicket at a time and slowly regroup, playing no shot unless he was certain of it or was given more to work with. With both balls for one back, Osborn surprisingly made the wicket with one ball and retired to the deathly first corner. While the crowd now expected another flurry of Cherry bombs to be tossed at Osborn, Cherry suddenly became cautious. This was a mistake. Osborn scored two-back, attacked for break by the third corner, ran to Rover and set partner. Aside from a missed peg-out in last turn, the game was over for a 25-5 victory and the Tankoos Trophy for Osborn and his best friend, Bingo.

In the First Flight Singles, steady Jim Spoonhour defeated Bill Luke, while Art and Kit Crowley captured the Second and Third Flights over John Perkins and Carol Lembo. First Flight Doubles was captured by Dave Hull/Paula Phaneuf over Chuck Loving/Oreste Passarelli, Second Flight by Lloyd Smith/JoAnne Nappi over Ted Truman/Lone Schweitzer, and the Third Flight winners were Ben Smith/Margaret Hull over Zelda Burke/Joy Guernsey-Diesel. (Apologies to these winners for the inability to witness their fine victories.)

Overall, the 30th year of the Palm Beach Invitational proved to be one of the best for sportsmanship and fine times. With Libby Newell's leadership and Ted Prentis' fine tournament direction, even those with broken resolutions walked away with a knowing smile and fond memories of beautiful weather, croquet lawns, and people. Since this year, even some of those invited responded too late to be included, everyone should start making their plans now. See you next tournament! (Arf Arf!!!)

Championship Singles, final results


  1. John Osborn

  2. Bob Cherry

  3. Neil Houghton

  4. Fred Jones

  5. Doug Grimsley

     John Phaneuf

  7. Bob Kroeger

     Byron Thomas

     Dick Brackett

     Rhys Thomas

 11. Digby Bridges

     Charlie Evans

 13. John Curington

     Bob Yount

     Mike Zuro

 16. John Oehrle

     Dan Mahoney

     Dwight Mayer

     Bob Rebuschatis

Championship Doubles, final results


  1. Doug Grimsley/Butch Bessette

  2. Bob Kroeger/Mike Zuro

  3. Byron Thomas/Dana Dribben

  4. Fred Jones/Dwight Mayer

  5. Bob Rebuschatis/Bob Cherry

     John Osborn/Digby Bridges

  7. John Curington/Bob Yount

  8. Dan Mahoney/Dick Brackett

     Neil Houghton/John Phaneuf

 10. Rhys Thomas/John Oehrle

First Flight Singles, final results


  1. Jim Spoonhour

  2. Bill Luke

  3. Jackie Jones

  4. Terri Spoonhour

  5. Jim Miles

     Chuck Loving

     Bubbie Grimsley

     Elston Pearce

  9. Greg Lembo

     Oreste Passarelli

     Larry Moore

     Tom Dyer

     Dave Hull

     Buzz Lee

     Chuck Steuber

 16. Keith Jones

 17. Erland Nelson

 18. Ruth Summers

 19. John Young

     Nelga Young

     Maurice Marsac

     Charles Lazarus

     Lynn Olson

 24. Chance Vought

     Paula Phaneuf

First Flight Doubles, final results


  1. Dave Hull/Paula Phaneuf

  2. Chuck Loving/Oreste Passarelli

  3. Charles Lazarus/Bubbie Grimsley

  4. Chuck Steuber/Al Heath

  5. Erland Nelson/Bill Luke

     John Young/Terri Spoonhour

  7. Buzz Lee/Elston Pearce

     Chance Vought/Keith Jones

  9. Tom Dyer/Jackie Jones

     Larry Moore/Ruth Summers

 11. Jim Spoonhour/Milan Hitt

     Nelga Young/Greg Lembo

Second Flight Singles, final results


  1. Art Crowley

  2. John Perkins

  3. JoAnne Nappi

  4. Melanie Marsac

  5. Julie Pearce

     Lone Schweitzer

  7. Ted Truman

     Linda Lane

     Alex Lane

     Florence Lee

     Lou Fusz

 12. Betty Lawford

 13. Lloyd Smith

 14. Ann Nolte

 15. Carol Basinger

 16. Carol Cherry

     Janice Hitt

     Norma Truman

     Margaret Mihlon

 20. Conrad Forelle

     Betty Payne

Second Flight Doubles, final results


  1. LLoyd Smith/JoAnne Nappi

  2. Ted Truman/Lone Schweitzer

  3. Margaret Mihlon/Norma Truman

  4. Herbert Swope/Bill Harbach

  5. Julie Pearce/Carol Basinger

     Art Crowley/Janice Hitt

  7. Florence Lee/Melanie Marsac

     John Perkins/Carol Cherry

     Betty Lawford/Ann Nolte

 10. Conrad Forelle/Lou Fusz

 11. Harriet Margulies/Betty Payne

Third Flight Singles, final results


  1. Kit Crowley

  2. Carol Lembo

  3. Margaret Hull

  4. Eleanor Perkins

Third Flight Doubles, final results


  1. Ben Smith/Margaret Hull

  2. Zelda Burke/Joy Guernsey-Diesel

  3. Kit Crowley/Carol Lembo

  4. Blanche Forelle/Eleanor Perkins


 
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