After Matthew, at the Nationals
Bob's first snaps were taken on Thursday, around the end of the qualifying rounds.
This lawn overview from the south shows the do-jiggered shades tied into the empty frames of the gazebos whose canvass covers were removed for Hurricane Matthew and are being cleaned before re-installing.
The clouds look threatening, but for the most part they acted as sun shields and produced little rain.
Thirty pounds lighter and almost always cheerful and helpful, the lowest-handicapped player in the event--at Minus Four--helps out by keeping a board for First Flight. He's not quite shadowed by the amatuer photographer. Although he was to lose singles, courtesy of Stuart Lawrence, he won doubles with partner Randy Cardo.
Rick Landry (standing) is the new and very popular club pro and plays in most of the events himself, in addition to setting courts and maintaining order. Bob Chilton and Randy Cardo are talking either about croquet photography or national politics.
Meanwhile, upstairs in the USCA office, Ursula Peck encourages NCC club member and new USCA staff member Ray Liberti, helping to sort out a staffing emergency that back-logged the tournament reporting which feeds the handicap and Grand Prix systems.
Derek Wassink was the highest-ranked National Croquet Club member in the event. He likes to tell jokes with a thick Irish brogue and does it well. Here he's chatting with fellow club member Peter Just, eliminated by Friday. I asked Derek, "How does someone with a Polish name learn such a good Irish accent?" Turns out the name is Dutch, not Polish at all. His engineering firm created the Croquet Dome project to weather-proof the lighted courts on the south side of the facility next summer.
On Saturday afternoon, Canadian Brian Cumming examines the ladders posted in the Trophy Hall while Doug Grimsley updates the scores. Cumming played well in both singles and doubles, topping the winners bracket to achieve a place in Sunday's final against the winner of the losers bracket, Stephen Morgan.
A championship flight player referees Danny Huneycutt's chancy shot at a ball in a hoop. Johnny Osborn was the official referee of the event, assisted by Rick Landry and others, but most Championship Flight players are willing and able to ref a shot when necessary. The tent in the foreground is part of the elaborate preparations for a non-croquet evening event to begin at 6:30 on Friday night.
Stuart Lawrence relaxes on the veranda while Danny Huneycutt struggles through one of the scrappiest singles games I watched in the tournament--towards the end of the losers bracket. It was a game filled with expert play and some critical mistakes, which Stuart won some bold strokes that paid off handsomely. Lawrence disdains the time obsession in the American game and for that reason (he acknowledged to me later) took some unnecessary chances in this game, following a crowd-pleasing peg-out of Huneycutt's rover; sufficient time remained to safely run out the clock, but Lawrence kept going. Finally, in last turns, Lawrence settled for a win just short of the peg-out, putting Huneycutt out of contention in singles.
At odd moments and between critical matches Bob Alman retired to the Members Lounge to play American Songbook classics on a magnificent grand piano.
On finals day, Doug Grimsley and Rich Curtis relax on the veranda between reporting chores that made it possible for Jeff Soo to manage the event from his home in North Carolina. The games were often spectacularly interesting to watch. During lunch, the spectator gallery has numbered close to a hundred, but by mid-afternoon most days of the seven-day event, I counted no more than 40 people watching the games. And this is a national championship in good weather--a chance to see exactly, shot by shot, what the champions must do to reach the top of the sport. Why do so few club members take advantage of that!? For the noontime finals, though, about 100 people were watching, including the losing competitors.
Pointedly not watching the finals going on in the background is the bridge group that had to settle for a remote spot on the South Veranda for their weekly games. The tiny figure in the background is Morgan running his first break in the final game of the tournament.
Also not watching the final is house manager Scott Hanson (who prides himself on being able to do everything that needs to be done for both the caterer SandyJames and the National Croquet Center--both pay his salary) because somebody has to watch over the dining room and run the "omelette station" in the background. The light framing his head is not a halo, incidentally.
Stephen Morgan got the first break in the finals against Brian Cumming of Canada. As it happens, the breaks of both players ended when their scoring ball on even-numbered hoops went out of bounds. (The mysterious dark spot in the middle of the picture is either a warning from Satan about his prospects; or the photographer's thumbprint.)
Brian Cumming offers the traditional handshake at the peg, graciously accepted by Stephen Morgan. Cumming did not lose any games in the knockout, and the defeat he delivered to his opponent in the final was Stephen's second loss--which satisfied the requirements of a true double-elimination tournament. It's the second time Brian Cumming has won the USCA American Rules championship, and the first time Morgan, an aspiring croquet pro, has been a finalist in the event.
Johnny Mitchell, outgoing president of the USCA, presents to Brian Cumming, right, the trophy he justly won, as witnessed by a hundred spectators.
New USCA American Rules doubles champions Danny Huneycutt and Randy Cardo lift high the trophy which by its size and weight signals its significance.
The complete final results will soon be posted on the USCA Website at http://www.croquetamerica.com/news/tournaments. If we ever get our Bulletin Board functioning again, we'll post them all on the restored board, for current and historical interest.
In the meantime, as we are all so fond of hearing when we really don't have a choice about it: THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE!
- Bob Alman, Editor
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