Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Mission Hills Invitational
Just one week after celebrating it's 20th anniversary with founders Pat Apple and Nancy Deupree, the Mission Hills Country Club in beautiful Palm Springs, California, hosted its annual Invitational tournament. Club President, Jim Butts, and his wife Phyllis worked tirelessly to make this one of the best invitationals in recent memory. The brilliant sunny days and temperatures in the 70s and 80s attracted snow birds from British Columbia, Idaho, Minnesota and New Hampshire to round out a very competitive yet fun-loving crew.
The second flight of waterford doubles was characterized by useful instruction and last second heroics. In several games, weaker players were ready to accept their games as lost until their partners encouraged them to “go ahead and try to hit that ball on the boundary.” Which they promptly did on several occasions. With such immaculate courts, anything is possible including the dramatic ending of one such game featuring the healthy and vibrant return of Nancy Feldman with doubles partner Toni Kemp versus Cindy Bagby and John Adams. With only seconds remaining, a two point deficit and serious deadness on the board, Toni made a point to stay nearby to help partner, in position at 2-back, rather than set up for a last chance at liveness. Nancy not only made her difficult wicket shot, but hit Toni's ball on the boundary and made an amazing roll; sending partner to 4-back while getting a rush on a ball near wicket 5 towards her current wicket, 3-back. Nancy ran around to the rover wicket, taking the lead by two, and grooming the court. Cindy was now faced with a 60 foot shot at a ball near corner one. Cindy casually mentioned “I've only got one chance” and managed to hit the ball while keeping it in! In order to prove the shot was not a fluke, Cindy performed a very nice full-roll around her wicket, number 5, from 50 feet away only to miss the 6 foot wicket shot. Donna Dixon proved to be the highlight of this doubles competition winning all four games to earn the title after winning no doubles games the previous year. Karen Comeau proved her 14 handicap unfitting of her skill in her second place performance while the spotlight shined on American Rules rookie Caren Sawyer. Under the kind tutilage of David Collins and Mohammad Kamal in Pasadena, Caren has developed into a wonderful shot maker in capturing the third place trophy in doubles.
The first flight of waterford doubles had some amazing match-ups with the top four seeds all at a -1 handicap. The strong play left a few players in the two on one situation after a break taken dangerously too far, and more than a few wins by 15 or more points. The final round featured a nationals caliber pairing with two teams, each with a combined handicap of -2. The results of that “showcase” game determined the overall victor as Jim Butts and Bill Hixon prevailed in a very well executed game over Paul Bennett and Rick Sheely 26 to 6. The 20 net points allowed Jim Butts to capture the doubles title over the previously perfect Paul Bennett. Aviv Katz was honored to take the third place trophy thanks to consistent play and a 13 point victory over fourth place finisher Barbara Mitchell in the third round.
Second flight singles featured the arrival of a mostly association rules player, Marvin Salles, abolishing his 13 handicap with a first place finish in the block and convincing playoff wins to remain atop the flight and winning the crown. Mission Hills was proud to welcome the aforementioned Caren Sawyer and her husband Eric to their first American rules tournament in which Eric beat out the lowest handicapped player in the flight to get to the semi-finals and eventually capture fourth place; not bad for a first timer. The true underdog story chronicled Jean Engebretson who was the 6 seed in the playoff ladder and scored a few key upsets to become a finalist. Jean's supportive husband, Dick Engebretson finished in third place.
With handicaps ranging from 3.5 to 7 the competitive first flight singles action featured many upsets with the top seeded player in the flight going winless in block play. Mission Hills' own Marty Ormsby, a 6 handicap when the tournament began, captured her block with a victory over undefeated Rich Schiller. With only 8 out of the 15 players making the playoff, there were no easy playoff games. Local favorite Phyllis Butts snuck into the ladder as the 8 seed but took off from there. Nursing a knee injury, Phyllis overcame mediocre block play and took out number one seed Marty Ormsby on her way to the final match and a second place finish. Despite being outnumbered, the Texans took control of the loser's bracket in Alamo fashion. Representing the Lone Star state was doubles champion Donna Dixon who was defeated by Lee Hamel. Lee eventually captured 3rd place shoring up a place for Texas in the singles ceremony as well.
Championship flight was a veritable who's who of West Coast croquet with 3 former U.S. team representatives and more than half of the field at a handicap of 1 or less. Block play went nearly to seed as the top four ranked players in each block made it to the 8 person playoff with a lurker “Sandy” Bob Van Tassell narrowly missing the last playoff spot. The sand-bagger was playing up as his 4.5 handicap does not encompass his skill on the lawn. “Sandy” Bob scored victories against the other low seeds in the block as well as an impressive 26-7 victory over the precocious Ben Rothman that featured nearly flawless play and impressively aggressive tactics from this new juggernaut. Mr. Van Tassell only missed the playoffs because of a head-to-head tie-breaker despite a 76 net point advantage over eventual 8 seed, Mike Orgill. This may be the last cut that Mr. Van Tassell misses for a long while. Friday morning began with 3 upsets in the first round of the playoffs. Whether it was the full moon rising or the drinks from the tournament dinner the night before, no one knows. Only top seeded Paul Bennet held his own against Mike Orgill, while two of the -1 handicaps were sent to the loser's bracket along with -2.5, Ben Rothman. Tennessee player Bill Martin took the honor of hitting in last turns after Rothman had just ran a break to the peg to get the lead by one. The self titled “Croquet Pro” sent his two balls off court in a croquet out leaving the danger ball a 24 yard shot from wicket five to two balls in corner 3. Martin roqueted the slightly closer ball into the other and managed to keep both balls in bounds. After tying the game, the man in white knickers made the most of the deadness to win by one point in the third rotation of last turns. Rick Sheely later defeated Wild Bill on his way to third place. Rick's shrewd strategy and his ability to stop a rolling ball with the snap of his fingers led him to both semi-finals. The good Dr. Sheely's only losses of the tournament were against the finalists. Young Ben made his way through the loser's bracket with four wins in a row to reach the finals against Paul Bennett. In the first of a possible two final games, a Chernobyl opening was slowly played out until Ben attacked into corner 3 from corner 4. Ben got the break going on that turn, but later missed an angled wicket shot at hoop 5. When Ben attempted to position his partner ball, Paul hit in and masterfully kept Ben dead for the majority of the game. Paul won the final after a few desperate 25 foot hoop shots that went awry for young Ben. In the end Paul managed to go completely undefeated through the entire tournament in singles. Paul's only loss was in the previously mentioned nationals calibre doubles game. Paul graciously accepted his trophies and honored many of the people responsible for such an excellent tournament including the generous Ellory McClatchy. Unbeknownst to Paul, a motion was made at the club's 20th anniversary celebration to rename the Mission Hills Invite as the Ellory McClatchy Invitational in the future. See you there next year!
9.Bob Van Tassell
First Flight Singles:
Second Flight Singles:
First Flight Waterford Doubles:
8.Bob Van Tassell
Second Flight Waterford Doubles: