The U.S. Open, played in the first week of December in Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage, California, was the anticlimactic final tournament in the 1997 New American Grand Prix. The strength of the field and the size of the tournament were both greatly reduced from former years, when the U.S. Open was at times the strongest International Rules tournament on the calendar.
The U.S. Open is one of the few tournaments dually sanctioned - by both the U.S.C.A. and the A.C.A. (American Croquet Association). Its decline mirrors the senescence of the A.C.A. itself, whose formation a decade ago spearheaded significant reforms in the U.S.C.A. leading to more International Rules play and broader education of U.S. players in the form of the sport played predominantly in most other countries.
Though plagued by rain, the tournament was not significantly affected by El Nino, according to A.C.A. President and Tournament Director Stan Patmor of Phoenix, Arizona, and all the games were played out in the pre-planned format - the "Patmor Draw." Canadian Leo McBride earned "holder" status and confirmed his reputation as Canada's strongest player by fending off the challenge of Denver's Rich Lamm, who fought his way to the top of the elimination ladder. McBride was the only competitor to successfully complete triple peels.
1. Leo McBride 2. Rich Lamm 3. Dan Mahoney 4. Mike Lufkin Johnny Mitchell 6. Louie Nel Richard Tucker 8. Gordon Milse 9. Maurice Marsac 10. Marc Gilutin
The much-weakened Championship Flight allowed several former first flighters with 5 handicaps to move up to the rarified air of Championship croquet for the first time.
First Flight was divided into low-handicappers (which saw Melanie Marsac go undefeated and Maryholt Maxwell take second) and high-handicappers (where Hope Harmon took first and Carmen McDaniel came in second).
Social Flight was won by Martha Tucker; Lloyd Hillman was second.
Weaknesses of Grand Prix System to be Corrected in 1998
One weakness of the "New American Grand Prix" has been the shifting relative strength of tournaments from year to year. While the U.S. Open declined greatly, the Meadowood Invitational - which changed from American Rules to International Rules - was not one of the 16 tracked events but turned out to be a very strong event.
These weaknesses will be corrected in the "New USCA Grand Prix," to be introduced in January. This system is planned to use the same reporting forms as the USCA Handicap and Tracking Points System, but will also include for the first time all USCA sanctioned International Rules events. Number of points awarded will depend on the STRENGTH as well as the LENGTH of flights tracked, with some extra weighting given to USCA titled events. Rich Curtis, member of the USCA Management Committee representing the Mid-Atlantic Region, has developed the new Grand Prix with considerable input from both the Management Committee and other prominent players. It's design effectively addresses most criticisms of the old USCA Grand Prix system, which rewarded participation more and performance less. To ensure that the best performing players come out on top, the new system will either average a player's results from all his events, or choose the BEST results from a specified number of events - say, four or five. (CROQUET WORLD will make a full explanation of the new system when it is introduced online early in 1998.)
USCA National Titled Events Regain Supremacy
As usual, the Sonoma Cutrer World Championship was the strongest event played in America in 1997 - by far. Two Northern Californians - Jerry Stark and Wayne Rodoni - made it to the second rung of the final elimination ladder, ending in a four-way tie for ninth place.
After Sonoma-Cutrer, the strongest International Rules tournament was the USCA International Rules National Championship played in Oakland California, with each of the top ten players a former or present member of an international team.
The strongest American Rules tournament - for the second consecutive year - was the USCA nationals in Palm Beach in October. Here are the rankings of the American Rules tournaments tracked (as graded by the aggregate handicaps of the top eight players registered):
John Osborn Continues Reign as "Player of the Year"
John Osborn topped the "New American Grand Prix" from the beginning, starting off his year by winning the Palm Beach Invitational in January. He also won the Delaware Invitational and the strong Mid-Atlantic Regional - the only player to win more than one major event; he placed second at the Nationals in October; his weakest showing was sixth place in a powerful Arizona Open. Without doubt, he was the strongest, most consistent USCA player of the year.
Second-place Mik Mehas of Palm Springs showed signs at times of closing the gap, but wasn't quite up to the mark, winning big in the International Rules Nationals, placing second in San Francisco, and third in Arizona; his worst showing was 6th place at the Palm Beach nationals.
Close behind Mehas is former USCA president Bill Berne, who continues to consistently finish well in strong tournaments. He won the Merion Invitational, was second in Southern Regional, and placed third in both the USCA nationals and the Palm Beach Invitational.
In fourth place is 1996 USCA National Champion Jim Hughes, whose worst showing of the year was his 13th place in the 1997 nationals. But he placed second at both Merion and Palm Beach invitationals, and a respectable fourth in Delaware.
How the New American Grand Prix Works
The 1997 New America Grand Prix covers 16 of the most important croquet events in North America - all the national championships and USCA regionals as well as eight of the consistently strongest tournaments in the land. Designed to track the performance of the top-level players throughout the calendar year, the Grand Prix awards points to the top eight finishers in all these tournaments. The amount of the points award depends not only on the rank of finish in a particular tournament, but also the strength of the tournament as measured in four "scoring ranges", with a win or place in the toughest tournaments generating four times as many points as a win or place in the weakest of the 16 events. The Grand Prix also takes into account consistency: At the end of the year, the top performers' points are averaged among all the Grand Prix events they contested, and the "Player of the Year" is determined by computing the highest score. To be eligible for this ranking, at least three events must be played.
How Grand Prix Points Are Awarded
Grand Prix player rankings are updated after each event, based on reported results. Raw points are awarded on the following basis:
FIRST PLACE - 100 points; SECOND - 60 points; THIRD - 40 points; FOURTH - 30 points; FIFTH - 25 points; SIXTH - 20 points; SEVENTH - 15 points; EIGHTH - 10 points.The points are then adjusted according to the strength of the field, as measured by the aggregate handicap total of the top eight players registered in the tournament, as follows:
RAW POINTS for placing in events scoring 10 or more;
After Sixteen of Sixteen Events
1220 points - John Osborn 770 points - Mik Mehas 680 points - Bill Berne 458 points - Jim Hughes 423 points - Britt Ruby 400 points - Don Fournier, Jr., Chris Clarke (England) 395 points - Doug Grimsley 340 points - Leo McBride 300 points - Carl Hanson, Darrell Turner 240 points - Pat Roach, Debbie Cornelius (England) Jerry Stark 220 points - John Phaneuf 200 points - Carl Mabee 188 points - Richard Powell 175 points - Dan Mahoney 173 points - Stuart Lawrence 165 points - Neil Houghton 160 points - Tony Stephens (New Zealand) David Openshaw (England), Rich Lamm 128 points - Bob Cherry 120 points - Mike Zuro, Mack Penwell, Jacques Fournier 110 points - Stephen Mulliner (England) Steve Comish (England) 100 points - Jim Bast, Jeff Soo, Steve Johnston Rory Kelley 98 points - Mark Najarian 95 points - Brian Cumming 90 points - Fred Jones, Ron Turner, Rich Curtis 88 points - Dave Lewis 85 points - Matt Baird 80 points - Greg Shaffer, Erv Peterson 75 points - Alan Wolman 70 points - Wayne Rodoni, John Leonard 68 points - Jim Hall, Joe Morris 60 points - Steve Jones (New Zealand) Jeff Dawson (England), Toby Garrison (New Zealand) Joe Yoder, Ed Merrill, Mike Weimerskirch, Charlie Smith 51 points - Johnny Mitchell 50 points - Carl Larkin 48 points - Michael Zuro 45 points - John Hunter 40 points - Paul Bennett, Peter Brandt, Phil Arnold 38 points - Gar Bechstead, John Oehrle 35 points - Jim Houser, Rich Sheeley 30 points - John Dill, Doug Merrill 28 points - Mike Lufkin 25 points - Chuck Reif, Byron Thomas, Dwight Mayer Rhys Thomas, Sal Esquivel, Jim Audas Steve Mossbrook, Tom Hughes, Bill Martin Derrick Robinson 20 points - John Taylor, Dick Brackett 18 points - Jeff Maxwell, Chuck Whitlow, Ron Lloyd Louis Nel, Richard Tucker 15 points - Bill Blanton 19 points - Gordon Milse
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