Friday, January 29, 2010

Rothman Repeats at the Rain Ravaged 2010 Desert Classic

The 4th annual Desert Classic took place on the pristine lawns of the Mission Hills Country Club January 19-23. The western center for croquet played host to snow birds from all areas of Canada and many Californians with false hopes of an arid temperate climate. The rains came early and they came hard. Players enjoyed a wonderful opening reception at the Mission Hills club house despite rains ruining most of the practice day. The exceptional food was thanks in no small part to the new sponsorship from the Doheny Eye Institute and continued support from Leed's & Son fine jewelers. Croquet club members supported the generous purse with sales of many shirts commemorating their 20th anniversary.

The 23 players were full of hope and aspirations for their share of the $5,000 purse, while others simply dreamed for clear skies. The field was separated into three blocks; the top ten in a full round robin with the remaining thirteen seeded into two blocks for round robins. But the weather had other plans.
Early play was highlighted by stellar play in the first flight with three players going undefeated. Dick Engebretson managed third with 40 gross points (the first tie-breaker) just a few behind Marvin Salles (43) who was just shy of Sheri Foroughi with 44. This three way tie was a consequence of an unprecedented cancellation due to weather. These three were only bested in gross points by a late-rallying Mary Rodeberg. On day one the Rancho Mirage resident had one victory and a total of 11 points. She was disheartened and wondered why she played so much worse in tournament than in practice. Mary came out on day two with the resolve of a proven champion. She managed to win both games by more than 11 points and accrue 34 gross points in eclipsing the undefeated players' totals with 45 gross points. Mary took the fourth seed in the playoffs..
For the first time in Palm Springs croquet history, rain caused cancellation of an entire day of play. This omitted the final rounds of block play so the top seeds did not face off against each other. But the two American MacRob team members and Canada's best did not escape block play undefeated. Rich Lamm was bested by local favorite and known sandbagger, Bob Van Tassell. “Sandy” Bob, as he is affectionately known, put together a beautiful triple to beat the heavily favored Coloradan 26-3. Rich did well to escape the likes of one Canadian dubbed “the Giant Killer.”

Vancouver based croquet enthusiast, Russell Uhler, started the new year with the biggest upset in North American history. Russell took down top seeded Ben Rothman with a well executed, if not easily organized, 12 hoop break leading into last turns. The 1100 point difference in index is unprecedented on this continent (and possibly worldwide).

Some will worry, has the wunderkind lost his edge? Is the pressure of being the top ranked player in the country getting to him? Has tournament directing sufficiently distracted him? Rothman went into the next game trying to tune out the whispers on the sideline and managed to not only complete the first triple peel of 2010 (for all of the northern hemisphere, at least), but he did all three peels before making hoop 6.
Russell Uhler and Ron Hendry in the rain.

Mr. Uhler went on to hit nearly every hit-in that day. Against compatriot, Brian Cumming, Russell hit several 20+ yarders including four in-a-row at one point. This lead him to an astounding 19-17 victory and one of the best croquet days of Russell's career.

In another three way tie, Brian Cumming took the top seed in the playoffs setting up an early match between Lamm and Rothman. Jim Butts, Bob Van Tassell and Russell Uhler rounded out the top six who got two lives in the playoffs.
Brian Cumming plays as the rain dies out and the sun shines.

To keep players busy, Rothman and Lamm, with the help of the Mission Hills Croquet Club, held a fundraising cocktail party for the United States MacRobertson Shield team. With a few inspirational speeches and great attendance in the rain, the party raised over $650 for the team. The USCA and Mission Hills have shown that they will fully support our team this August and the fundraising effort will be in full swing this season. Readers can always donate to the Lee Olsen fund with a tax deductible donation to the non-profit which will be supporting the American team this year and in years to come.

After the cancelled day, players were chomping at the bit for their playoff berths. The three undefeated players worked their way to the semi-finals along with the respectable redemption artist Mary Rodeberg. Dick Engebretson lost by one point in last turn to his consistent competitor, Marvin Salles, after leading the entire match. Sheri Foroughi dominated her semi-final 17-1 but was outplayed by the undefeated first flight champion, Marvin Salles. Marvin received $300 for his efforts.
Cindy Bagby takes off to the opponents.

The second flight went to Bayfield inn-keeper, Patrick Waters against the seed-breaking underdog, Jean Engebretson. The consolidated plate event was a local battle won by Judy Dahlstrom who already has a nice collection of trophies for 2010.

Championship flight was controlled by the top three seeds with “Sandy” Bob rounding out the semi finals. The sun finally broke free and unleashed the welcome warmth on the field as Bob went on to beat Jim Butts for the plate championship narrowly avoiding the rabid triple-peeling Ron Hendry. The final day of play had Rich Lamm sleeping in and watching Ben and Brian battle it out. Ben managed a fourth turn hit-in and an 8th turn triple (his 3rd consecutive) to get to the best of three final against the man who knocked him down, Rich Lamm.

In the first game, Rothman took control and even peeled Rich through hoop one. The subsequent leave was a diagonal spread with the peg ball unrushable to hoop 2. Rich missed the lift but Ben could not organize the peels. In a difficult straight peel Rothman tried a foolish drag-jump which rebounded straight back onto his mallet. Rich took control, but the previous pop left him disoriented and he failed to get position at his hoop (2). Ben was able to hit in and finish +25. Game two had Rothman in control until he failed to start his second break. Rich took nine hoops only to see a rare ranged Rothman roquet.

Rich Lamm amidst the storm.

Ben could not get organized and resigned himself to try the straight triple, complete with a bombard to penultimate. The peel through penultimate was short leaving Ben a shot to make the hoop while rushing to rover. Alas, it was not to be as his rush bounced off the peg and the 7 yard rover peel was wired from the hoop by a reception ball.

Ben's hoop-and-roquet through penultimate.

Ben set a decent diagonal spread, but failed to completely cross wire the opponent balls. With control of the match on his mallet, Rich took the 9 yard slightly wired shot at the peg ball but hit the peg squarely, leaving Rothman a $1,000 turn. Rothman calmed his nerves; winning the game and the $2,000 check. Rich Lamm walked away with $1,000 while Brian enjoyed the bloody mary bar with his $500 prize.
The finals day crown enjoying the sun.

All participants enjoyed the divine court side brunch during the final match and appreciated the presence of the tournament sponsors. With its annual rainfall average already met, Rancho Mirage promises to be a much more comfortable venue for the rest of the season. The club is looking forward to showing off the exceptional courts during the Mission Hills Invitational March 2-6 and welcoming back the best players in the country at the Association Rules Nationals April 19-23. Until then, stay dry.
Back Row: Brian Cumming, Bob Van Tassell, Patrick Waters, Rich Lamm
Middle Row: Mary Rodeberg, Jean Engebretson, Judy Dahlstrom, Sheri Foroughi, Toni Kemp
Down in Front: Ben Rothman

Championship Flight
1. Ben Rothman
2. Rich Lamm
3. Brian Cumming

Championship Plate
1. Bob Van Tassell
2. Jim Butts
3. Ron Hendry
4. Russell Uhler
4. Mick Greagsby
6. Brian Wasylyk
6. Arthur Bagby

First Flight
1. Marvin Salles
2. Sheri Foroughi
3. Mary Rodeberg
4. Dick Engebretson

Second Flight
1. Patrick Waters
2. Jean Engebretson
3. Toni Kemp
4. Cindy Bagby

Combined Flight Plate
1. Judy Dahlstrom
2. Jane McDonnell
3. Karl-Heinz Kempfer
3. Dick Tucker
5. Gayle Waters

The Prized Trophies.

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