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« Morning Coffee: Mitchell Will Be USCA President | Main | Huneycutt Takes 2011 U.S. Open »

2011 USCA GC Nationals Report

Rich Lamm is the U.S. Golf Croquet championship | Click for full gallery

By Ben Rothman

Golf Croquet Nationals were cancelled. Low turnout took the blame for a last minute tournament change this August. So instead of the sticky heat in North Carolina, Golf Croquet aficionados assembled in Rancho Mirage for a Southern California winter experience. The USCA managed to resurrect the tournament at the same venue of the record breaking 2010 competition. The short days and unpredictable game times made for a roll-over schedule that kept the record-breaking field of 47 players busy for four days.

Cameron and Louann Evans wowed the first-flight doubles; their mother/son dynamic kept the team rolling through the finals. The mostly local flight had 11 other doubles teams with new players keeping pace with wily veteran teams. Mary Rodeberg and Jean Engebretson fell victims to the family Evans while weekend warriors Bill Houck and Mitch Gershenfeld outlasted the up-and-coming team of Nick Gray and Jim Okey. Bill and Mitch hung in there, but the sharp-shooting former kindergarden teacher controlled the court while Cameron earned gold stars with his strategy. The Evans' are the first mother and son team to win a National Championship in the USCA history (or at least Golf Croquet).

The singles contest filled two flights of 16 players and a surplus block of six. The second flight was the first sanctioned competition for a few players, but not the Bayfield crew. Richard and Elaine Kennedy have been members of one of Canada's largest croquet clubs in Bayfield, Ontario. Bayfield has a population of 900 and 90 members in the croquet club lead by Mrs. Kennedy herself. Both of the Kennedy's played well but only Richard made it to the final. Local croquet enthusiast Betty Teoman was able to knockout Elaine in a tight three-game match with two games ending at the playoff hoop. Elaine must have done enough to exhaust Betty's store of excellent shots because she could not sustain. Richard Kennedy took the title 7-5, 7-4.

With last year's champion Karl-Heinz Kempfer absent and the runner-up Eric Sawyer moving on up, the first flight was an open field. There were only four block games to help seed the knockout which lead to some undefeated players from the block getting eliminated in the early rounds. Bayfield regular Toni Kemp was forced out by Jean Engebretson and Jim Okey was taken down by Floridian Tom Haun. Cameron Evans continued to beat up on veteran players but Mary Rodeberg steered her way past him in three games in the semi-finals. Nick Gray avenged his doubles partner by defeating Tom Haun for a spot in the finals. Nick took the first game, but Mary validated the best-of-three format with two consecutive convincing victories (5-7, 7-3, 7-4) and a National Championship title to boot.

The championship doubles was a bit of a scramble as none of last year's teams, including the champions, returned to compete together.  Paul Bennett, champion and former partner of the Fournier/Bennett LLC, took up with Arthur Bagby to become the slowest team in golf croquet history. Sherif Abdelwahab dropped Danny Huneycutt as a partner to team up with his brother Ahab Dincer, who had been out of croquet for over a decade, to create one of the hardest hitting teams. Danny played with Rich Lamm and all three of the aforementioned teams went 4-1 in block play, only surpassed by Ben Rothman and Leo Nikora who were undefeated. In the best-of-three ladder the polite brothers Sherif and Ahab were upset by the well paired Ron Hendry and Eric Sawyer. Eric's Pasadena practice paid off with some timely shots into the jaws from over 50 feet and Ron's willingness to shoot hoops from any distance helped them to steal some points. Paul and Arthur were able to knockout Jim Butts and a reluctant Brian Cumming but they lost the semi-final to Ben and Leo (7-3, 7-3). Danny and Rich matched up well against Ron and Eric and cruised to the final. Ben and Leo came out on fire as Leo scored the first five hoops and took game one 7-1. Game two looked like a done deal at 6-4, but Danny and Rich would not give in. At hoop eleven Danny had a 30 foot clearance shot blocked by Rothman. Danny did not delay and lined up the jump as the crowd quieted. The ball went nearly two feet in the air and landed well short of the target, but that was the plan. The second bounce went over Ben's ball and took Leo out of position! At the playoff hoop (or "fishhook" as the first flighters coined it) Danny evened the match with a hoop shot from the boundary! The momentum continued for Rich and Danny with center-ball clearances and stupendous hoops. After losing both finals last year Danny would not be denied, he and Rich took the title 1-7, 7-6, 7-3!

After a day of block play the championship singles field was chomping at the bit for consequential play. Mohammad Kamal came back with a vengeance after his early exit last year and beat up Hendry and Nikora on his way to Danny Huneycutt. The bona fide contender from North Carolina brought his best game and beat "Kimo" with a 15 foot jump shot to win game one 7-5. Mohammad buckled down and finished game two tidily 7-4 and yet his momentum did not last. An exhausted Danny, having outlasted Sherif in the quarter-final, took his spot in the finale. Rothman took the first exit as Bennett scored his second big upset  of a top seed (Mohammad last year). Ahab Dincer and Eric Sawyer had a battle in the first round, but Eric refused to clank any hoops leaving Ahab aghast (7-6, 2-7, 7-4). Eric took a tie-breaker against Paul Bennett but suffered a 7-0 defeat in the re-match. Just when the Pasadena faithful thought Eric's spectacular play (he was undefeated in the block) had reached its end, Eric went ahead 4-0 and cruised to a 7-4 drubbing. That's right, last year's first flight runner-up earned a spot in the championship final four! The match-up was familiar foe Rich Lamm, Eric's recent doubles opponent. By this point in the tournament Rich had mastered the off-speed center-ball clearance and tamed every hoop from most distances. Eric had jawsed and blocked with impunity, but Rich out-positioned him. Rich took Eric in two tight games (7-5, 7-6) after defeating Jim Butts and Ahmed Elhadary only to meet his teammate Danny Huneycutt for a chance at total domination.

Danny and Rich displayed amazing control and tactical precision in an extraordinarily entertaining final match. In-off clearances and exacting promotions showed off their planning but the long shots and battled truly thrilled the fairly large crowd thanks to U.S. Open players in town early for a day of practice. Games one and two were split over contentious rover battles with Rich taking the first and Danny equalizing. The final game was a race against the creeping darkness with every great scatter shot delaying the drama. The heavy hitting Huneycutt had many excellent shots undone with unbelievable replies by the undaunted "Lamminator". Rich had an answer for every query and ended the match with a nice one-ball break. Having made four-back to the north boundary from mid-range, Rich took nearly 40 foot hoop shot (Danny had two balls in position) and drilled it to win his second National Championship of the day!

Competitors and spectators alike shuffled over to the recently revamped tennis center to escape the chill in the air and imbibe a few warming drinks. The party was dual purpose with the U.S. Open schedules on the loose and a rowdy crowd managed to exaggerate the merriment. Just another day in Croquet Heaven.

CHAMPION FLIGHT SINGLES                        
Rich Lamm        1st                
Danny Huneycutt        2nd                
Eric Sawyer        T-3rd                
Mohammad Kamal        T-3rd                
Paul Bennett        T-5th                
Ahmed Elhadary        T-5th                
Leo Nikora        T-5th                
Sherif Abdelwahab        T-5th                
Ben Rothman        T-9th                
Ahab Dincer        T-9th                
Jim Butts        T-9th                
Rich Schiller        T-9th                
Ron Hendry        T-9th                
Steve Mossbrook        T-9th                
Mike Orgill        T-9th                
Brian Cumming        T-9th                
FIRST FLIGHT SINGLES                        
Mary Rodeberg        1st                
Nick Gray        2nd                
Tom Haun        T-3rd                
Cameron Evans        T-3rd                
Jean Engebretson        T-5th                
Jim Okey        T-5th                
Paul Christy        T-5th                
Jerry Phillips        T-5th                
Toni Kemp        T-9th                
Michael Rumbin        T-9th                
David Cartwright        T-9th                
Hope Harmon        T-9th                
Lewis Barry        T-9th                
Welles Farago        T-9th                
Pat Dugan        T-9th                
Nancy Deupree        T-9th                
SECOND FLIGHT SINGLES                        
Richard Kennedy        1st                
Betty Teoman        2nd                
John Pearson        T-3rd                
Elaine Kennedy        T-3rd                
CHAMPIONSHIP DOUBLES                        
Rich Lamm        1st                
Danny Huneycutt        1st                
Ben Rothman        2nd                
Leo Nikora        2nd                
Paul Bennett        T-3rd                
Arthur Bagby        T-3rd                
Ron Hendry        T-3rd                
Eric Sawyer        T-3rd                
Ahab Dincer        T-5th                
Sherif Abdelwahab        T-5th                
Jim Butts        T-5th                
Brian Cumming        T-5th                
Steve Mossbrook        7th                
Rich Schiller        7th                
FIRST FLIGHT DOUBLES                        
Louann Evans        1st                
Cameron Evans        1st                
Bill Houck        2nd                
Mitchell Gershenfeld        2nd                
Nick Gray        T-3rd                
Jim Okey        T-3rd                
Mary Rodeberg        T-3rd                
Jean Engebretson        T-3rd                
Dick Tucker        T-5th                
Jane MacDonnell        T-5th                
Marc Clausen        T-5th                
Welles Farago        T-5th                
Tom Haun        T-5th                
Michael Rumbin        T-5th                
Sue Arenson        T-5th                
Phil Arenson        T-5th                
Kory Teoman        T-9th                
Betty Teoman        T-9th                
Richard Kennedy        T-9th                
Elaine Kennedy        T-9th                
Hope Harmon        T-9th                
Lewis Barry        T-9th                
Pat Dugan        T-9th                
John Pearson        T-9th               

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