OSBORN RE-DEFINES CROQUET GRAVITY AT "MINUS ONE" HANDICAP
by Bob Alman
The USCA's four-year-old handicap tracking system has proven its worth as a
ranking mechanism as well, with Osborn, Fulford, Rodoni, Taves, Mehas,
and Berne at the top.
There is only one American player handicapped at "Minus One", and his name is
John C. Osborn, son the founder of USCA croquet and one of the longest-lived
champions of the sport. Osborn won the requisite number of Handicap
Tracking Points in the process of winning the USCA Mid-Atlantic Regionals in
Wilmington, Delaware - a tournament he has virtually "owned" since his first
regional win there in 1984.
Osborn led the old USCA Grand Prix ranking for many years, including 1992,
when that system was retired. The old Grand Prix awarded points for playing
in USCA sanctioned events ranging from club championships and invitationals
to USCA regionals and the nationals, using the best nine events in the final
computation. In the final year, Osborn was trailed by Robert Yount and Mike
Gibbons. All the top three had played in at least nine qualifying Grand
Prix events that year.
Designed to encourage and reward players for competing in sanctioned USCA
events, the old Grand Prix helped the fledgling sport to grow. The system
came under increasing criticism in the early nineties, however, because it
was not seen as an accurate mechanism for ranking players according to their
actual relative strengths. Although award of points was heavily weighted
towards the top performers, participation in the sanctioned events without
regard to performance was also rewarded with points. And although none but
very good players could rise to the top 10 or 20 positions, some younger
players prevented by their work and family life from playing in many events
felt shut out of the system.
OSBORN TOPS ALL THREE RANKINGS
Nevertheless, when the conversion to the new system of Handicap Tracking
Points took place in 1993, the old Grand Prix rankings were used largely as a
basis for getting it started. Johnny Osborn started out on top, in a small,
golden circle of Zeros. He quickly proved his merit under the new system,
playing often and playing well. He was the first player to achieve a Minus
One-Half handicap in 1994.
Further validating his ranking at the top is CROQUET WORLD'S "New American
Grand Prix," introduced this year with the modest aim of tracking the
results of the top players in 15 major events each year. In that ranking,
with only four Grand Prix events remaining in the year, Osborn is tied in
the lead with Wayne Rodoni and Leo McBride, closely trailed by Mik Mehas.
[See "The New American Grand Prix" at this Web site..]
ONE-HALFS ON THE BRINK: RODONI, TAVES, MEHAS, AND BERNE
Closely trailing Osborn as the 1996 season draws to a close are a select
group of One-Halfs who could all earn before the end of the year the
necessary 28 Tracking Points to catch up to Osborn's trail-blazing Minus One.
Of the four one-halfs, Wayne Rodoni of San Francisco and John Taves of
Seattle are closest to the mark, having earned half the Tracking Points
necessary to reach Minus One. USCA president Bill Berne and Mik Mehas of
Palm Springs have also reached the one-half level.
WORLD CHAMPION BRIT MAY STEAL THE BACON
Robert Fulford, the young British player who has dominated the top spot in
the world rankings for several years - and who travels frequently and often
plays in USCA American Rules tournaments - has also reached the Minus One
level in the most recent handicap list update. It is conceivable, if
Fulford continues his recent rate of play in the U.S., that he could become
the first non-American to reach the solitary pinnacle of the U.S. ranking at
Minus One and One Half.
The new USCA Handicap Tracking System, implemented during the tenure of
Billie Jean Berne as National Handicapping Chairman, was not designed as a
zero-based system, as it also tends to reward players for frequency of play -
but to a much lesser degree than the old system. To lower the handicap, a
player must accumulate at least 28 "Tracking Points" by playing in sanctioned
USCA events. A player may win as many as eight Tracking Points by defeating
a player with a lower handicap, but can never lose more than four tracking
points in a defeat. Therefore, over time, the entire system is designed to
"slide" ever lower, unless there are across-the-board periodical adjustments.
MINUS BIAS BUILT INTO THE SYSTEM
At the current rate of "handicap slide," the system sinks a half point every
2 years (or a full point since its introduction in 1993).
The "minus handicap", however, is a feature of every national ranking system
in the world. In fact, the new USCA system has proven to be very workable in
its first four years and must be deemed, in a sport known for
contentiousness, a success. USCA headquarters pro Nate Weimerskirch, who
sees all the glitches up close, vouches for the system's basic soundness: "I
was very skeptical at first. It's working far better than I thought it
would at first. It's certainly far superior to the old Grand Prix as a
ranking of players."
STATISTICS REVEAL OVERALL STABILITY OF NEW SYSTEM
The only complaints of consequence have occurred as a result of slow
reporting and slow recording of handicaps at USCA headquarters. Reporting
is always the responsibility of tournament managers and directors. Recording
of tracking points, under the supervision of the current Handicapping
Chairman Steve Johnston and Weimerskirch, has improved dramatically in 1996.
When mistakes and delays skew the results, Weimerskirch has been diligent
in making the necessary corrections and adjustments.
The handicaps are also being more frequently updated and published, not only
in the USCA CROQUET BULLETIN, but also on the USCA Web site, which posts a
complete handicap update approximately monthly.
In the most recent handicap update, Weimerskirch reports some remarkable
statistics which attest to the stability of 4-year-old system over time.
Before breaking through to the 1.5 level, player Tom Hughes established the
record for "most games at the same handicap" - 215 matches as a 2.0. Rob
Currier may soon break that record; his streak as a 2.0 now stands at 204