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A courtside chat with Reg Bamford

Interview and photos by Bob Alman
layout by Reuben Edwards
Posted April 01, 2002
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More than 25 years after his father taught him to play in his native South Africa, Reg Bamford at the age of 34 and with the physical stature and bulk of a football linebacker has achieved the pinnacle of success as a croquet player. He is the world champion, he has won virtually every major tournament he has entered in the last year, he tops the world rankings, and he continues to win with a masterful display of technical feats in almost every game - triples, quints, and sextuples. He wants still more. He wants to hold world champion titles in every form of the game simultaneously - Association Croquet, the 14-point game, and Golf Croquet. I interviewed him two days before the end of the 2002 Golf Croquet World Championship in West Palm Beach. It turned out to be the one break in a long winning streak that continues. In the critical match against the eventual winner (Younis of Egypt) he lost on the final point in both games. If he had won that very close match, he could have added the golf croquet crown to his other laurels. He talks about his rigorous training regimen, his unfulfilled ambitions, South Africa, the Egyptians, his life in London, his personal future, prospects for the sport, and his favorite pastime: beating the "Poms."

REG, IT'S THE FIFTH DAY OF THE GOLF CROQUET WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP - THE FIRST SUCH EVENT TO BE HELD IN AMERICA AND THE FIRST GOLF CROQUET WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP YOU'VE COMPETED IN. YOU'RE THE TOP PLAYER IN THE WORLD IN ASSOCIATION CROQUET. ARE YOU DETERMINED TO BEAT EVERYBODY IN ALL FORMS OF THE GAME? WHAT'S THE STORY?

That's quite an interesting question, Bob. I was actually thinking about it yesterday. There is the 14-point world event, which is going to be held sometimes in July, I think it's actually in Cairo this year. And it would be really nice if I could win this tournament and that one. That would be some record.

LIKE THE TRIPLE CROWN.

I think it's a pipe dream, actually. It's only my third tournament in this game so...

BUT THIS EVENT YOU'RE IN NOW WOULD ACTUALLY BE A BIGGER CHALLENGE THAN THE 14-POINT GAME, BECAUSE YOU HAVE ALREADY MASTERED ALL THE ESSENTIAL SKILLS YOU NEED IN THE FULL-LENGTH ASSOCIATION GAME. THIS IS DIFFERENT. TELL ME EXACTLY HOW THIS IS DIFFERENT...FOR YOU.

Well, the rules of the game changed several years ago. The golf croquet that I knew is gone, and they introduced all these technical changes. It really is an eye-opener to see all these top players using all these tactics that I've never seen in my life before, anywhere. And I'm at a severe disadvantage, (chuckling) because I really don't know what's going on...

YOU DON'T FEEL AT A DISADVANTAGE WITH THE STROKES...

Not really, no....

BUT ARE THEIR STROKES.... I MEAN WOULD YOU EVER HIT A HOOP SHOT THAT HARD? I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHY THEY [THE EGYPTIANS] HAVE TO HIT THE HOOP SHOTS THAT HARD.

I'm not sure, Bob, that playing the ball that hard makes it any more accurate or would give you any more chance of going through a hoop. I think it's really because they play on such poor quality courts in Egypt. The one thing about this game, though, is that you're continuously having to make 10-foot, 12-foot hoop shots, whereas in our game, anything over three feet might very well scare you away.

WELL, THAT SUGGESTS MAYBE THAT GOLF CROQUET IS ACTUALLY A TRAINING. I MEAN, YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THIS GAME DAMAGING YOUR PROFICIENCY IN ASSOCIATION CROQUET.

No, no, no, no. In fact, quite the opposite. It think this is superb training. It's not just the long hoop shots, you've got to hit that seven-yarder, and not just hit it, you've got to hit it on the correct side.

SO YOU WOULD SAY THAT PLAYING GOLF CROQUET COULD IMPROVE YOUR ASSOCIATION PLAY, AND THE STANDARD OF... THAT'S A GREAT MESSAGE!

Yes.

DID [WORLD CROQUET FEDERATION PRESIDENT] TONY HALL BRIBE YOU TO TAKE THIS POINT OF VIEW?

No comment (chuckling).

REG, YOU ARE AWARE, SURELY, THAT YOUR PRESENCE IN THESE GAMES, AT THIS EVENT, ALONG WITH FULFORD AND MULLINER, HELPS TO MAKE THIS FORM OF CROQUET - GOLF CRQUET - RESPECTABLE...AT A HIGHER LEVEL. AND I WASN'T BEING ENTIRELY FACETIOUS ABOUT TONY. IT'S HIS JOB TO PROMOTE THE GROWTH OF CROQUET EVERYWHERE, AND THERE IS A GROWING CONSENSUS THAT PROMOTING GOLF CROQUET IS THE BEST WAY TO PROMOTE THE SPORT EFFECTIVELY. AND OF COURSE, THERE ARE DIEHARD CONSERVATIVES ALL OVER THE WORLD WHO WOULD JUST ABOUT KILL YOU FOR SUGGESTING SUCH A THING. THEY SAY WE'RE RUINING THE SPORT. HOW DO WE ANSWER THEM?

Well, if I had to be truthful and honest and say which of these two games is likely to be more popular to people who have never played croquet before, I would have to say "golf croquet." It's simple to understand, there is player involvement all the time...

BOB: THAT'S WHAT THEY'RE AFRAID OF! THEY ARE AFRAID OF BEING SHOVED ASIDE, AND THE GAME THEY LOVE IS BEING THREATENED...

I don't understand why they would feel threatened....

...BECAUSE GOLF CROQUET IS GOING TO BE SO POPULAR THAT IT WILL TAKE ALL THE COURT SPACE AT THE LOCAL CLUB, THEY'RE GOING TO HAVE PEOPLE ALL OVER THEIR COURTS ALL THE TIME, AND...

But wouldn't that be fantastic!?

THAT WOULD BE MY THOUGHT, BUT THEY WOULD SAY, "NO, BECAUSE THEY'RE ALL PLAYING THAT AWFUL GAME, THAT INFERIOR GAME, THAT BORING GOLF CROQUET..."

Well, it might not be as boring as they think. And I think to attract new players to the game and to attract TV - if ever that happens - it's going to have to be golf croquet.

IT WOULD BE A WONDERFUL PROBLEM TO HAVE, WOULDN'T IT? YOUNG PEOPLE, OLDSTERS, EVERYONE PLAYING GOLF CROQUET, NO MORE COURT SPACE, WE'D HAVE TO RAISE THE MEMBERSHIP DUES TO KEEP PEOPLE OUT, BUILD MORE COURTS...

You'd get Nike, Adidas, you'd get TV cameras, you'd get money in the game...

CITY GOVERNMENTS WOULD BE PRESSURED TO TAKE PART OF THEIR PUBLIC GOLF COURSES AND BUILD CROQUET LAWNS ON THEM...

(laughing) I think we're living in a pipe dream here...

BUT IT WOULD BE A WONDERFUL PROBLEM TO HAVE, SO WHY BE AFRAID OF IT?

It's nothing to be scared of.

WE'VE TALKED ABOUT HOW THIS GAME CAN HELP YOUR ASSOCIATION GAME. I HAVE HEARD SOME AMAZING THINGS ABOUT YOUR TRAINING REGIMEN... WHAT ABOUT THE PLYWOOD BOARDS YOU USE TO WORK ON MUSCLE MEMORY... YOU SEEM SUCH A FUN-LOVING CHAP, THIS KIND OF THING SOUNDS SO VERY RIGOROUS AND TEDIOUS...

I knew you'd ask this question, Bob.

WELL THEN, YOU'RE PREPARED TO ANSWER IT, AREN'T YOU?

They say, "Practice makes perfect," but I say, "Practice makes permanent...."

MAY I QUOTE YOU?

They say, 'Practice makes perfect,' but I say, 'Practice makes permanent.'

REG: ...and what I do is, I practice really hard before a major tournament. It may involve two or three hours of practice a day for a week or so. And I do have a "swing trainer" - which ensures that my swing is taken back perfectly straight. It just means that when you are put under pressure, then there's less likelihood of your mallet head twisting - because it is straight in the first place.

SO THESE ARE PLYWOOD, AND YOU KNOW THAT IF YOU MALLET TOUCHES IT, YOU'RE NOT STRAIGHT? IS THAT HOW IT WORKS?

Not really. There's a tiny gap between the two pieces of wood and your mallet head, so it actually forces your mallet to be straight.

AND IF IT HITS, DO YOU HURT YOURSELF, DO YOU GET A SHOCK OR ANYTHING...?

No, you just swing back perfectly every single time, it keeps your swing straight, and your muscles "remember" how to swing straight under the pressure of competition...

OKAY, I GUESS YOU DON'T HAVE A PICTURE OF THIS CONTRAPTION...

No, but I used it just before the World Champs last year, and after a two or three hour training session, I took 64 shots at the peg, from the middle of the east boundary. Sixty-four shots. Bob, how many did I hit?

LET ME GUESS. FIFTY-EIGHT.

Sixty-three...

BOB: OH, MY GOD...

Now, wouldn't it be fantastic to replicate that under match conditions....? But that's coming right off the swing trainer. That's got to be telling you something.

FANTASTIC. REMINDS ME OF THE DAY ABOUT 10 YEARS AGO WHEN I DECIDED TO CHANGE TO THE IRISH GRIP. I WENT TO THE SIDELINE AND HIT 13 OUT OF 21 INTO THE STAKE. I WAS THRILLED. OF COURSE, I'VE NEVER GOTTEN ANYWHERE CLOSE TO THAT SINCE...(both laughing)

Well...Actually golfers do that all the time, the pro golfers, they change their putting grip all the time... And apparently, it makes a massive difference....

THAT SMALL CHANGE MAKES YOU BRING TO THE FOREFRONT OF YOUR CONSCIOUSNESS WHAT YOU'VE BEEN DOING UNCONSCIOUSLY OR INTUITIVELY, AND IT MAKES YOU REEXAMINE... IT'S KIND OF THE OPPOSITE OF MUSCLE MEMORY, ISN'T IT?

...It's all in the mind...

...THERE SEEM TO BE TWO THEORIES OPERATING HERE. SO THAT'S ONE, YOUR SWING TRAINER, WHAT'S YOUR OTHER TRAINING DEVICE LIKE?

(silence)

YOU SAID YOU HAD TWO.

Well, the other one is done in your mind. The World Champs final, I'd already played that five or six hundred times in my mind. So when I walked onto the court, I knew the situation, I knew there was a crowd, I knew what I had to go and do. Because I'd visualized it. And that really made a massive difference.

OKAY, SO YOU'RE NOT TALKING ABOUT A MACHINE, YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT A TRAINING METHOD, VISUALIZING WHAT YOU'RE GOING TO CONFRONT, KIND OF WALKING YOURSELF THROUGH IT, SO YOU'RE PREPARED FOR IT AND FEEL EQUAL TO IT.

So there're no surprises, nothing is going to be new to you.

WELL, THIS SOUNDS EASY...

It's very, very easy...

BUT YOU CONSCIOUSLY PAY ATTENTION TO DOING IT, THE NIGHT BEFORE, OR...?

When you do it probably doesn't make too much difference. But so many people get stage fright sometimes, when they're playing a big final their game goes to pieces, or their shots go wide....Well, why is that? It's because the situation has changed....

YOU MEAN IT'S A DIFFERENT ENVIRONMENT FROM THE BLOCK GAMES OR THE QUALIFYING GAMES, OR EVEN THE SEMI-FINAL...

Yes, there's more pressure, but somehow you have to have a mechanism for coping with that. And the best way is just to say, 'Well, my goodness, I've played this hundreds and hundreds of times." The conscious mind doesn't actually know that you've really played it 500 times or not. But just by thinking that you've played it 500 times means that you have...

Bamford watches Khalid Younis shoot his way to a razon-thin match victory in the quarterfinals of the 2002 Golf Croquet World Championship in Florida.
I SEE. I THINK I SEE. WE ALL KNOW PLAYERS WHO GET TO THE FINALS AND FALL APART AND CAN'T SHOOT A HOOP ONE FOOT OUT AND STRAIGHT ON.

Yep!

NAME SOME YOU KNOW.

(laughing) I'm going to plead the Fifth [Amendment] here.

IN MY OWN LOW LEVEL OF PLAY, I'M ONE OF THEM. MY VISUALIZATION IS QUITE DIFFERENT FROM YOURS, THAT WON'T SURPRISE YOU. MY MIND SCREAMS AT ME, "HOW DID I GET HERE? I DON'T REALLY DESERVE TO WIN!" IT'S KIND OF THE ALMAN ANTI-METHOD... "I CAN'T DO THIS! I DON'T DESERVE THIS! WHO DO I THINK I AM, ANYWAY, ROBERT FULFORD?"

I know a good doctor who could help you out here...

THE CROQUET DOC. I'VE HEARD OF HIM. WHERE IS HE WHEN I NEED HIM? SERIOUSLY, THOUGH, WE'VE NEVER DONE THIS KIND OF EVENT ON THIS CONTINENT BEFORE, THIS CHAMPIONSHIP HAS RAISED OUR CONSCIOUSNESS ABOUT GOLF CROQUET....WE MIGHT EVEN HAVE SOME PEOPLE WHO'VE LEARNED TO REFEREE AS A CONSEQUENCE OF THIS, FOR EXAMPLE...

Yes...

GIVE ME YOUR IMPRESSIONS, AND DON'T BE POLITE. WE NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THIS FACILITY, IT'S BIG, IT'S EXPENSIVE TO RUN, IT'S NOT QUITE OPEN, THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE IT, WE'RE ALL FEELING OUR WAY, WE'RE GOING TO HAVE A PLAYERS' MEETING TOMORROW EVENING AND HEAR SOME OF THIS....WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE EVENT, THE LAWNS, THE OFFICIALS, THE PARTIES....WHAT?

Well, to be honest, I can't help being amazingly impressed by it, I mean there are 12 courts, they're all in great nick (SIC), absolutely fantastic. The tightness of the hoops could be improved. We need more referees. Other than that, I can't fault this event.

DO YOU THINK WE'LL ARRIVE AT A JUST RESULT? DO YOU THNK THE BEST PLAYER IS LIKELY TO WIN?

.....Uhhhh.....I might want to answer that on Sunday.

YOUR HESITATION IS REALLY INTERESTING. OKAY, LET'S EXPLORE; THE WIDE HOOPS MIGHT AFFECT THE OUTCOME, THEN.... BUT WE'LL HAVE GOOD REFEREES FOR THE FINAL ROUNDS, SO THAT'S NOT A QUESTION...

No.

SO WHAT WOULD PREVENT A JUST RESULT IN THIS WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP?

Well, the luck can turn against you, but in this game, that's not as big a factor as in the full Association game, where a game can turn on one shot. You know, one long lift shot, and if you hit you're going to win it, and if you don't, you're out...

IF YOU HIT, YOU'RE GOING TO BE PLAYING FOR THE NEXT 30 MINUTES.

Correct. But here, it's a bit like tennis, if you double-fault you say, "Well, that's okay, one point down, I'll just win the next one."

THE QUESTION, REG, THE QUESTION...

I think the best person probably WILL win it - but it DOES take a bit of luck. A couple of hits really make a difference.

IF YOU LOSE IT, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO TELL YOURSELF? ARE YOU GOING TO SAY, "REG, YOU'VE NEVER PLAYED THIS GAME BEFORE AT THIS LEVEL, THERE ARE SOME TACTICAL POINTS YOU DON'T REALLY GET YET, THERE ARE SOME RISK-VERSUS-GAIN PERCENTAGES YOU HAVEN'T WORKED OUT PERFECTLY YET..."? IS THAT WHAT YOU'RE GOING TO TELL YOURSELF?

What I would tell myself is the next time I play in this I'll put a bit more preparation into it, I'll practice harder, and I'll do even better. You know, I'm behind in the tactics, but in these three or four days, I've learned something...

SO NOW THAT YOU HAVE AN EXPERIENCE OF WHAT IT'S LIKE, ARE YOU LIKELY TO GO FOR IT THE NEXT TIME?

Oh, yeah, it's fantastic, yeah!

YOU PREFER IT TO COMPETITION IN THE OTHER FORMS OF THE GAME?

Tony Hall is going to hate me for saying this, but I think this is actually a better game....

I DON'T THINK HE WOULD HATE YOU, YOU'RE BOTH NOTORIOUSLY NICE GUYS.

Well, some people would hate me...

I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M HEARING YOU SAY THAT GOLF CROQUET IS A BETTER GAME THAN ASSOCIATION CROQUET - I MEAN, FROM YOUR OWN PERSONAL STANDPOINT AS A PLAYER. I LOVE IT THAT YOU'RE SAYING IT, IT'S SENSATIONAL IN AN INTERVIEW LIKE THIS, BUT IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE

Everybody has their own filters, and I'm sure that there are a whole bunch of croquet players out there who are saying, "I can't cope with change," and "I've played Association croquet all my life, and therefore it's the best game." But you've got to strip away all that....

JUST A MINUTE, NOW. I'LL PLAY THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE HERE. I HAVE ADVOCATED THIS GAME FOREVER. I LOVE TO GO BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN THE DIFFERENT FORMS OF CROQUET. AND...IT'S AN EXAGGERATION TO SAY OF GOLF CROQUET THAT EVERY HOOP IS THE SAME, BUT LET'S FACE IT: EVERY HOOP IS THE SAME! I MEAN, EVERY HOOP IN THE ORDER OF THE COURSE IS A CONTEST TO SEE WHICH SIDE WILL SCORE. THAT'S WHY WE CALL IT GOLF CROQUET. AND THAT CAN GET TIRESOME AFTER A WHILE! YOU MIGHT AS WELL PLAY GOLF! DON'T YOU WANT TO GO INTO COMPLEX TACTICS, ADVANCED CHESS, ALL THE VARIETIES OF THE TWO-BALL CROQUET SHOTS...DON'T YOU LOVE TO DO THAT, ISN'T THAT SO MUCH MORE CHALLENGING AND ABSORBING AND INTERESTING?

I played Robert Fulford in the final of the British Open about three years ago, and you know what the scores were? Minus 26 triple-peel, plus 26 triple-peel, minus 26 triple-peel, plus 26, plus 26. In each one of those games, only one person took croquet. You know, somebody could go and read their bloody newspaper and not miss anything...

I KNOW, I KNOW. LAST OCTOBER, WE HAD OUR AMERICAN RULES NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP HERE, REG, ON THESE NEAR-PERFECT LAWNS, AND THERE WAS A HEATED DEBATE - SOME OF IT GOT ON THE EMAIL NEWSGROUPS - ABOUT "WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO TO PREVENT THESE LONG BREAKS AND GROOMS AND ONE PLAYER RUNNING AWAY WITH THE GAME? SHOULDN'T WE ACKNOLWEDGE THAT WHEN THE TOP PLAYERS HAVE MASTERED THE TECHNICAL ASPECTS THAT WELL, SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE TO MAKE THE GAME INTERACTIVE AND INTERESTING?" BUT WHEN WE WENT BACK AND EXAMINED THE STATISTICS OF THE GAMES, WE FOUND IT WASN'T AS BAD AS IT AT FIRST APPEARED.

It wasn't as bad, it was just those very good players playing on extremely good lawns. You do have a problem. Maybe a big problem.

BUT THE SITUATION YOU DESCRIBED WAS EVEN MORE SEVERE THAN HERE IN OUR AMERICAN RULES NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP. EVEN THOUGH WE HAD A LOT OF 26-TO-2 SCORES, IT TURNS OUT THAT THERE WERE 20 OR 30 OR EVEN 40 TURNS IN THOSE GAMES, THEY WEREN'T SIX-TURN GAMES, BY ANY MEANS. THERE WERE NO SIX-TURN GAMES IN THE ENTIRE TOURNAMENT. SO THE CONVERSATION KIND OF DIED AWAY, AND IT WAS A GREAT CONVERSATION TO HAVE, BUT OUR AMERICAN GAME DOESN'T HAVE TO BE ADJUSTED, NOT ANY TIME SOON. DOES YOURS, DOES ASSOCIATION CROQUET NEED TO BE 'FIXED' AT THE TOP LEVEL? THE 14-POINT GAME IS ONE ANSWER TO THAT, I GUESS.

It could be one answer, because in the 14-point game, the longest time you're apt to be on the court is ten or 15 minutes - whereas in the full Association game, my goodness, I'm tempted sometimes to say to a player, "Just hit in against me. Don't waste my time. My time is quite valuable. Just put your clip on 4-back. Do whatever groom or leave you want to do, and give me a shot. Don't make me watch you make nine hoops."

My time is quite valuable.  Don't make me watch you make nine hoops.

THAT SOUNDS SO ARROGANT, REG! (laughing)

No, but if you play on a flat, easy lawn a four-ball break, you know you're going to go around...

REG, YOU MAY THINK IT, YOU MAY BE TEMPTED TO SAY THAT TO AN OPPONENT, BUT YOU NEVER ACTUALLY SAY IT, DO YOU?

When I play Robert or Chris Clarke or David Maugham, they're not going to break down on a four-ball break. Maybe on a three-ball. But a four-ball break? I'll go and have some tea. But THIS game is completely different. You're always involved.

YOU'RE HAVING A KIND OF...ROMANCE WITH GOLF CROQUET NOW. I THINK YOU'LL REALLY, ON BALANCE, GET TIRED OF CONTESTING ONE HOOP AT A TIME, OVER AND OVER AND OVER.

No. I think there's a place for both games. I think we shouldn't be so na´ve as to think this golf croquet is going to take over the world and it's going to be the next baseball or basketball. That's not going to happen. But there's a place for both games. And in terms of attracting new people to the sport, this is the game to do it. You try and teach someone who's new to the sport the intricacies of croquet shots and roquet shots and deadness...

IMPOSSIBLE!

Impossible.

NOW, REG, I HAVE TO ASK YOU THIS: ARE YOU A BRIT OR A SOUTH AFRICAN? IF YOU'RE A SOUTH AFRICAN, WHY AREN'T YOU LIVING THERE? WHAT IS GOING ON? PEOPLE ARE CURIOUS ABOUT THAT. WHAT DO YOU DO IN ENGLAND? WHEN ARE YOU GOING BACK TO SOUTH AFRICA AND CLAIM YOUR...NATIVEHOOD...?

I am South African through and through. That is where my heart will always be. I've always played for them. I've been living in London for ten years, I've got my business there, I'm married, I've settled down there, I travel on an Irish passport, which is very convenient for me. But I'll always be South African. I'll always support them to the hilt, whatever problems they've got there, that's where I grew up and...

SO YOU CAN SEE YOURSELF LIVING IN LONDON ANOTHER 20 YEARS AND THEN RETIRING TO SOUTH AFRICA?

I'm not sure I can live another 20 years in England, it's a pretty god-forsaken place, to be perfectly honest. It's miserable weather, and London can sometimes get you down a bit, miserable public transport, the people are unfriendly. I'm quite content just to make my pile there and...

WHAT ARE YOU MAKING YOUR PILE IN?

I'm what you'd call a CPA.

AND YOU DON'T HAVE THAT SORT OF OPPORTUNITY IN SOUTH AFRICA?

No, no, no, well...It's principally because my solid customers are young travelers coming to London. Young travelers don't go to Capetown to work. They come to London.

A CPA FOR YOUNG TRAVELERS? I DON'T UNDERSTAND.

Well, we do all sorts of tax things for them, we do visas and immigration issues, passports.

OH, THEY'RE COMING TO LIVE THERE, NOT JUST TRAVELING THERE, IS THAT WHAT YOU MEAN?

They could be two weeks there or 10 years there, we will service them. And the great thing about that is that it gives me entree to the British [croquet] season, which runs from May through to August. It's very competitive. There's a top tournament every two or three weeks. It's good fun, and I love beating up on those Poms.

I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO SAY TO THAT, REG. WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES YOU A SOUTH AFRICAN? A WAY OF VIEWING LIFE? IS IT WHAT SOUTH AFRICA HAS BECOME, WITH THEIR VERY LIBERAL INSTITUTIONS AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE SOCIETY IN THE POST-APARTHEID ERA? WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES YOU A SOUTH AFRICAN IN THE YEAR 2002, WITH SUCH PRIDE OF COUNTRY, AND YOU DON'T EVEN LIVE THERE?

I've got Africa in my blood, obviously. And I'm also proud of what we've become...

IN THE PAST TEN YEARS...

Correct. Ten years ago, it was awful. But amazing things have happened. It's like an absolute miracle. Our poor leader gets put in jail for 28 years, and he comes out and he's got not one ounce of hatred, or retribution, or revenge. He comes out and he says, "We are all brothers."

YOU CREDIT NELSON MANDELA FOR THIS TRANSFORMATION.

Oh, absolutely.

BUT HE'S NOT RUNNING THE GOVERNMENT ANY MORE. IS HE STILL A SPIRITUAL LEADER OF SORTS?

He's still there. There's not a major decision made in South Africa without him saying...

BUT THERE'S NO LAND REFORM. CIVIL LIBERTIES ARE VERY FAR ADVANCED, BUT THERE'S NO LAND REFORM, AND LAND REFORM - REDISTRIBUTION OF THE WEALTH OF THE COUNTRY - HAS TAKEN PLACE IN COUNTRIES ALL AROUND THROUGH VIOLENCE. IS THERE NO DANGER OF THAT IN SOUTH AFRICA?

This is probably getting on dangerous ground here.

DANGEROUS FOR WHOM? I'M PERSONALLY CURIOUS, BECAUSE I KNOW PEOPLE HERE WHO ARE AFRAID TO GO TO SOUTH AFRICA. I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT ZIMBABWE, I'M SAYING THEY'RE AFRAID TO GO TO SOUTH AFRICA.

But that's because of what they read in the newspapers or they hear on TV. I lived there for 24 years, and I didn't see any violence or murders or killings... It is as violent as...

HOW MANY BLACK CROQUET PLAYERS ARE THERE IN SOUTH AFRICA?

Four.

ONLY FOUR? IS IT EXPENSIVE?

Not really. Every person in South Africa has an equal opportunity to join a croquet club.

THEY REALLY DO? THERE ARE NO PRIVATE CLUBS? THERE MUST BE PRIVATE CLUBS, YOU MUST HAVE COUNTRY CLUBS.

There are about six or seven croquet clubs in South Africa, all municipal. It's a very small game in South Africa.

I THOUGHT THERE WERE ABOUT 500 MEMBERS OF THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION.

Well, that might have been some years ago, now we have about 30 playing members.

THIRTY? MY GOD, WHAT HAPPENED?

If we had 100 black players and one white player, I'd think, "Fantastic!"

YOU MEAN YOU HAVE 30 PLAYERS AND FOUR OF THEM ARE BLACK.

Correct.

SO IF ANYBODY'S KEEPING SCORE, YOU'RE DOING BETTER THAN WE ARE IN THE CATEGORY OF EQUAL OPPORTUNITY...

(laughing) Probably.

BUT THE OVERALL DECLINE IN SOUTH AFRICAN CROQUET IS SHOCKING! WHAT HAPPENED? FROM 500 TO 30 IN SUCH A SHORT TIME? IS IT SOMETHING TO DO WITH THE SOCIAL REVOLUTION THERE?

It could have been, actually. A lot of them have passed away, a lot of them have left the country, and we've had very few new players come in. I think that's probably a symptom of the top people there who have not really promoted the game properly. Which is unfortunate.

BUT AREN'T YOU SPEAKING PARTLY OF THE ELDER BAMFORD HERE? HE HAS SOME RESPONSIBILITY FOR...

Well, it isn't really the president's role to do that, although... You know, there are only five or six clubs, and there have been very few membership drives.

IF THERE ARE FIVE OR SIX CLUBS AND 30 MEMBERS, THAT MEANS THERE ARE FIVE OR SIX MEMBERS IN EACH CLUB.

Playing members.

OH, SO MORE PEOPLE ACTUALLY PAY DUES. THREE HUNDRED PEOPLE PAY DUES, AND 30 PLAY. IS THAT WHAT YOU'RE SAYING?

I think it's gone down to more like 120 people paying dues and 30 people playing.

THIS IS TERRIBLE, I HAD NO IDEA. CROQUET IS REALLY DYING THERE...UNLESS SOMETHING IS DONE...

It's really sad, because 12 or 13 years ago - you've met the Barlows? - we had eight minus 2 players.

I KNOW, I REMEMBER THINKING AND EVEN WRITING AT THE TIME THAT SOUTH AFRICA WAS THE COUNTRY WE WOULD HAVE TO DISPLACE TO MOVE INTO THE FOURTH POSITION AMONG CROQUET-PLAYING COUNTRIES. NATURALLY, I WAS THINKING OF SOUTH AFRICA AS THE FOURTH-RANKED COUNTRY.

Well, the last time we played the States, we kicked your ass! Why were the Americans admitted to the [MacRobertson] Shield without us being offered the opportunity? Was it because of money and politics and all that nonsense? We would have kicked your butt in the Shield. And we would have kicked Australia's but, too.

BUT NOW WYNAND LOUW HAS MOVED TO SOUTH CAROLINA. IS CROQUET GOING TO DIE COMPLETELY IN SOUTH AFRICA?

It could happen.

AMAZING. I HAD NO IDEA OF THIS SITUATION. I THINK OF CROQUET ON THE RISE EVERYWHERE, NOT DYING OUT.

CHANGE OF SUBJECT: WHAT DO YOU FORESEE FOR YOURSELF IN CROQUET? HOW OLD ARE YOU?

I'm 34, and I've been playing for 27 years. And I know what happens to people who play at top level for a certain length of time. I just have to look at John Solomon, Nigel Aspinall...

IT'S MY UNDERSTAND THAT NIGEL ASPINALL DOESN'T PLAY AT ALL NOW.

He does play, but... Well, he's got the yips.

HOW CAN YOU HAVE A 10-YEAR CASE OF THE YIPS?

Well....actually, you can. I was looking at my doubles partner, Stephen Mulliner, and he's showing signs of the yips.

NOW? HERE? I WASN'T AWARE OF THAT.

Oh yeah, he can't run a hoop.

HOW CAN THAT BE, HE'S STILL IN IT, HE'S PLAYING AT ONE O'CLOCK?

I'm kidding. He's my doubles partner.

OKAY, SO WHAT'S SO GREAT ABOUT PLAYING WITH STEPHEN MULLINER? WHY IS HE YOUR PARTNER? HE'S A BLOODY POM!

He is a Pom, but despite that, I do enjoy playing with him.

WHY?

He's a bit like me, very competitive, he's a man that I respect hugely, he's got a lot of wisdom, and I think he's a very nice man and a reasonable croquet player - not a great croquet player but a reasonable player.

HE'S A KIND, INTELLIGENT MAN...

He is, he's a very great fellow...

AND HE NEVER MISSES A HOOP.

No.

SO WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR OTHER FAVORITE CROQUET PERSONALITIES?

(long pause)

I'M NOT GOING TO BE ASKING WHO YOU HATE, WHO SHOULD BE VOTED INTO THE HALL OF SHAME AND DRIVEN OUT OF THE SPORT! SERIOUSLY, WHO DO YOU ADMIRE AND APPRECIATE, AND WHY?

As a player, it has to be Rob. He's been at the top of his game ten or twelve years, he's won countless world championships, and that's a remarkable feat. And there's Bob Jackson, who just keeps going...

ON AND ON, WHAT A ROLE MODEL...

Incredible. He's played in something like 16 or 18 consecutive New Zealand Open finals. And New Zealand croquet is...strong. He's beaten John Prince, all those guys.

SO AS FAR AS LONGEVITY, HE COULD BE YOUR ROLE MODEL. YOU'RE NOT GOING TO GET THE YIPS AND RETIRE FROM COMPETITION LIKE NIGEL ASPINAL, ARE YOU? YOU KNOW, PEOPLE HAVE SAID OF REG BAMFORD, "HE CAN'T MAINTAIN THIS EXTRAORDINARY LEVEL OF PERFORMANCE FOR LONG. NOBODY COULD." WHAT DO YOU SAY TO PEOPLE LIKE THAT?

If you've got the enthusiasm and the drive, there should be no reason for not maintaining that level. It could come down to having children, not having time...

NO TIME TO DO THAT THREE HOURS DAILY ON THE SWING TRAINER.

Yes, my wife could have something to say about that.

DOES SHE SUPPORT YOU IN YOUR CROQUET CAREER?

She does.

SHE MUST THINK IT'S RATHER FOOLISH. THERE'S NO MONEY IN IT, AND LITTLE ENOUGH GLORY.

Yes, I picked the wrong sport, I should have been a golfer.

I GUESS IT'S TOO LATE TO CHANGE.

It IS too late. To get the top of your game these days, in any sport, you've got to start at a young age. It's getting tougher and tougher. You've got to start as a six- or seven-year-old.

WHICH YOU DID. THIS INTERVIEW HAS RAMBLED AROUND LONG ENOUGH, WE'D BETTER STOP. WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO ASK THAT I HAVEN'T ASKED?

(long pause)

EVERYONE HAS THEIR FAVORITE ANSWERS, BUT THERE'S GOT TO BE A QUESTION FIRST. I ALWAYS INVITE PEOPLE TO JUST TELL ME THE QUESTION SO THEY CAN SAY THEIR ANSWER. WHAT'S THE QUESTION?

I've got a couple of questions, but I think they would have to be off the record.

NO POINT IN THAT. SO LET'S JUST CLOSE BY TALKING ABOUT THE EGYPTIANS. IN THIS TOURNAMENT, AS IN ALL THE PREVIOUS MAJOR TOURNAMENTS IN GOLF CROQUET, THE EGYPTIANS HAVE BEEN THE DOMINANT FACTOR, AND REALLY, WE OWE THEM A DEBT, BECAUSE THEY HAVE MADE THIS GAME RESPECTABLE, AND THEY'RE TEACHING US SOMETHING ABOUT THE STANDARDS OF THIS PARTICULAR FORM OF THE SPORT. WHAT DO YOU THINK WE CAN LEARN FROM THE EGYPTIANS?

Well...

TRE OTHER PART OF THAT IS GOING TO BE, "WHAT CAN THEY LEARN FROM US?"

Well, they play the game completely differently from us, and I think it's a function of the poor quality of the lawns they've got. Because they just hit the ball so hard. And they've got very interesting tactics. Any hoop shot, no matter how long, they will take on - which is an eye-opener to us. In terms of what they can learn from us, I think we have players who will always just take position. And you know what? That can be a darned good tactic as well. And I think the tactics will end up to be somewhere in the middle.

WHAT ABOUT THE SUPER-COMPETITIVENESS OF THE EGYPTIANS? I SUPPOSE THE EGYPTIANS AREN'T TOPS IN MANY SPORTS, AND THAT COULD BE A PART OF IT. BUT YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN, ABOUT THEIR INTENSE COMPETITIVENESS, THEIR PARTICULAR BRAND OF TEAMSMANSHIP, THE WAY THEY KIND OF BOND TOGETHER ALL TO THEMSELVES IN THE LAST DAYS OF A TOURNAMENT...ALL THAT. IS THAT A HEALTHY THING?

It is a healthy thing if it is channeled correctly.

THANK YOU, REG. GOOD LUCK TO YOU.


 
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