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Wayne Rodoni is a perfectionist in everything he seriously attempts. He was the first big player to be grown on the San Francisco Croquet Club lawns, at the end of the eighties, and a role model for a new generation of developing masters in the San Francisco Bay Area. The image he projects is a near caricature of the American sportman of the popular imagination, unfailingly polite and modest to the point of self-effacement, embarrassed to be in the spotlight, and at the same time driven to seek the victory that puts him there. He's a tough interview, because you can't get him to say anything bad about anybody or anything. He thinks carefully about his answers and delivers them in a measured and deliberate way that lets you know he means exactly what he says, and nothing more. In another interview, I once asked him, "What's the secret of winning croquet?" His answer was, 'Putting the pioneer ball in the correct position." Since I seldom get my pioneer ball within spitting distance of the pioneer wicket, I suspect he was giving me a personal tip, but it strikes me as pretty good general advice.

--Bob Alman


INTERVIEW WITH WAYNE RODONI

WHY DO YOU PLAY CROQUET?

It's my alternative to playing golf and other slow sports. And I enjoy it.

SLOW MENTALLY?

I didn't say that!

YOU'RE NOT SAYING CROQUET AND GOLF ARE FOR MENTALLY SLOW PEOPLE?

No, I have several fast sports, and I have a couple of slow ones. Don't put words in my mouth! (chuckling) Volleyball, softball, hockey, racing was a former one I did, auto racing.

AND SO YOU HAVE REJECTED GOLF.

I'm doing croquet because I prefer it.

DO YOU THINK YOU'D BE ANY GOOD AT GOLF?

I think I'd be much better than average.

BUT YOU'VE NEVER GIVEN IT A SERIOUS TRY.

No.

WHAT'S YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL IN CROQUET? I"M ASKING THIS QUESTION OF THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL CHAMPION, YOU'VE WON JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER PLAYED IN, IN THIS COUNTRY AT LEAST. SO WHAT ARE YOU OUT TO ACHIEVE?

I haven't won any major international events yet. I don't have any definitive goal. I just try to get better every year, which over a period of time would place me at the top. I'd like to play in the finals of this event. I've played in this tournament five or six times, and never in the final.

YOU HAVE A BARRIER AT NUMBER SIX. YOU'VE BEEN SIXTH SEVERAL TIMES.

Okay, yeah. To be better than Number Six in this tournament. That's my goal right now, today.

WHICH PLAYER DO YOU MOST ADMIRE?

Neil Spooner.

THAT"S AN INTERESTING ANSWER.

Well, it doesn't have to be a current player, does it?

NO. WHY DO YOU ADMIRE NEIL SPOONER?

Because he was far and away the best player I had seen when I was learning the game, and it showed me how much more you could do with maneuvering the balls around, and he was inspirational in getting better, because if he could play that way, eventually I could play that way too if I practiced right.

BUT YOU SAW BOB ALMAN PLAY VERY EARLY ON, DIDN"T YOU?

(laughing) I learned a lot from you, Bob! I learned golf croquet from you, which I have used to my advantage, in later years....

BOB ALMAN GAVE YOU YOUR FIRST LESSON. IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU CAME AWAY WITH FROM THAT....??

You directed the introductory clinic, the first time I played, Mary Atkinson and I.....

WHAT DID YOU CARRY AWAY FROM THAT EXPERIENCE? IT MUST HAVE BEEN TRULY INSPIRATIONAL....

(laughing) Oh, my.....Actually, it was your attitude that I was first taken with, because I think you were passing this off as just...just clinic people....

YOU DON'T MEAN I WAS PATRONIZING YOU....?

You had a lot going on, and you were just running us through, you know.

SO THE MOST YOU CAN SAY IS THAT I DIDN'T ACTIVELY DISCOURAGE YOU FROM TAKING UP THE SPORT? IS THAT THE BEST YOU CAN DO....?

You didn't actively discourage us, that's true.

DID YOU HAVE ANY NOTION AT ALL, AT THAT TIME, THAT I WOULD BECOME THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN THE CROQUET WORLD?

(laughing very hard) I didn't know you then. That would have to be a "no."

OKAY. SO WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST SIGNIFICANT ACCOMPLISHMENT IN CROQUET?

Probably just to be able to play in tournaments like this, of this quality.

THAT'S NOT AN ACCOMPLISHMENT.

Yes it is. Not everyone can get to this level.

NO, I MEAN A SINGLE EVENT, A TREASURED MOMENT, A HIGH POINT, A "SILVER BOX EXPERIENCE," SOMETHING YOU CAN THINK ABOUT WITH PLEASURE AT THREE A.M. WHEN THE DOG IS BARKING....

No.....I don't think I have any of those...

OH, COME ON, WAYNE! SOMETHING THAT YOU REALLY ENJOYED! THAT YOU REALLY LOVED, THAT WAS TOTALLY THRILLING, THAT MADE A BIG DIFFERENCE, THAT MADE A BIG DENT IN YOUR MEMORY CELLS, SOMETHING YOU DID THAT YOU DIDN'T KNOW YOU COULD DO, SOMETHING YOU WITNESSED....ANYTHING! YOUR GREAT MOMENT IN CROQUET.....WHATEVER!

(after a pause) Bob, I'm not connecting with this question.

WELL, I HAVE TO SAY I THINK IT'S INTERESTING THAT YOU CAN'T ANSWER THIS SIMPLE QUESTION. OKAY, HOW ABOUT THIS: WHAT ABOUT THE USCA NATIONALS LAST SEPTEMBER? IT MUST HAVE FELT GREAT TO WIN THAT!

The Nationals was a very good win, but there were a lot of good people who didn't participate in it that would have made it more difficult, a stronger field. I'm not saying it was an EASY victory because of people missing, but there were some signficant strong players who weren't there.

OKAY, SO LET'S TRY ANOTHER ANGLE: "FIRSTS." YOU WENT TO PHOENIX, VERY EARLY ON, AND YOU SURPRISED JUST ABOUT EVERYONE, BIG TIME, EXCEPT MARCIA ATKINSON AND ME, BY WINNING THE ARIZONA OPEN, WHICH AT THAT TIME WAS FAR AND AWAY THE STRONGEST TOURNAMENT IN THE COUNTRY. SO THAT MUST HAVE BEEN A BIG THRILL, IT WOULD HAVE TO BE....

Well, I had played in the San Francisco Open before that, I won the "B" Flight.

THAT WAS YOUR FIRST TOURNAMENT WIN.

Yeah, it was the "B" Flight. They're all nice, they're all different.

YOU'RE IMPOSSIBLE.

I'm not trying to be difficult I'm just want to be objective....

OKAY, OKAY, OKAY, I GIVE UP! SO WHAT'S THE CROQUET SCENE GOING TO BE IN THE YEAR 2020, IN THIS COUNTRY?

In 2020....They're all going to be playing with aluminuum mallets.

ALUMINUM?

And there are going to be Rodoni hoops worldwide, everywhere.

THAT WAS AN EASY ONE. IF YOU COULD CHANGE THE GAME IN ANY WAY, WHAT WOULD IT BE? THE RULES, THE PEOPLE, THE LAWNS, ANYTHING...

I think every game should be played without a time limit, American and International. Even though that's not conducive to running a tournament on schedule. That's what I would do. It may not be realistic, but...

WHO DOES THE DAMAGE IN THE SPORT?

I think sports writers for newspapers, they're kind of looking at the game from being a grandma/grandpa game that only old people play, and they don't understand that there's a competitive field of players that are....they're not athletes, but they're very, very good at playing this game. That's why I'm afriad to tell, like, my baseball cronies that I play croquet, because they think it's a duffer little game that you're out there dinkin' around with.

THAT'S INTERESTING. YOU'RE AFRAID TO TELL YOUR BASEBALL FRIENDS THAT YOU PLAY CROQUET...

Well, most of them know. To really understand it, though, they'd have to try it. I play it, I enjoy it, it's my choice. But I shouldn't have to defend it.


 
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